The 46 head of butcher hogs scrambled down an alley and onto the livestock scale Thursday unaware of the significance of their presence.

The crossbred hogs, sold by Ken and Steve Hoffman of Westfield, Iowa, were the final animals to be sold at the Sioux City Stockyards. At a price of $37.80 per hundredweight, the 234-pound pigs brought more than $2 above Thursday's market top of $35.50.

"It's the first and last fat hog auction in the history of the yards," said Vince Hoefling, a longtime commission man for Scott Commission Company.

Thursday's private treaty sale marked the end of the stockyards' 115-year history. All but the last group of hogs were sold in private bidding between buyers and commission men. But the Hoffmans' pigs were sold in a special informal auction conducted by Hoefling.

Steve Hoffman, the third generation in his family to sell hogs at the yards, said it was sad to see Sioux City lose its stockyards, where his grandfather began marketing livestock in the early 1900s. Although Hoffman, who raises swine with his brother and father, Ken, may opt to sell directly to a packer, the competitive bidding was more beneficial to farmers, he said.

"The competitive market is the way it still should be," Hoffman said.

It just won't be that way any longer in Sioux City.

The yards soon will be demolished to make way for a retail development anchored by a Home Depot home improvement store scheduled to open this fall.

Under the roof that has covered livestock pens for almost 30 years, the yards Thursday barely resembled the bustling livestock industry that once dominated Sioux City. The majority of livestock pens already had been taken down in preparation for a clearance auction.

"By tomorrow (Friday), there probably won't be a pen out here," said Roger Gaswint, stockyards manager.

As the final 483 hogs -- far above the average of 250 -- were sold Thursday, men who spent years working at the yards returned for one last look around.

"I just wanted to see the last sale. I wanted to see a few old-timers," said Lauren Frisch of Akron, Iowa, who started working for Sioux City Stock Yards Co. in 1953 and later worked as a hog buyer for John Morrell and Co.

Frisch reflected on the days when the yards were so crammed with livestock that he weighed animals from 9 in the morning to 9 at night.

"It was quite a place to work," he said. "It's sad to see the industry go. It's been a great thing for Sioux City."

The final day of the yards seemed to be sinking in on Hoefling once the final lot of hogs was sold.

"I've been a hog salesman all my life," he said. "It wasn't tough coming in this morning, but when you see some of your old friends coming to see you for the last time, you know we're out of here."

Throughout the morning, the catwalk above the pens was busy with people, cameras and videocameras in hand, catching a final glimpse of Sioux City history. A young father brought his son into the auction barn and explained to the boy how the cattle would come in one door and out the other while buyers bid on them.

A few feet away, Gaswint said that scene has been repeated several times over the past few weeks.

"There have been a lot of spectators here, just to see this for the last time," he said.

With the last animals through the yards, the focus will be on disassembling the whole facility to prepare for one final sale. On April 8, Gaswint's auction company will auction off everything from gates to sale ring seats to the giant Sioux City Stockyards signs from the sides of the buildings. A big turnout is expected, Gaswint said.

"We've had a lot of interest. Everybody wants a piece," he said.

As farmers, employees and visitors walked off the catwalk and into the parking lot on the south side of the covered pens, a sign told them, "Thank You. We Appreciate Your Business."

Judging from the last, longing glances made by longtime employees and customers Thursday, the appreciation was mutual.


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