Winfield Farm trucks towing empty cattle trailers jammed into the parking lot of the Winfield Livestock Auction on Wednesday for its first sale since the mad cow scare.
Inside the packed sale barn, people outnumbered cattle. Last year, the auction sold 1,900 animals in its first auction of the year. On Wednesday, it sold 89.
"I came prepared to buy -- and nothing is here," said Wellington rancher Karlin Debuhr.
Each year, he buys 200 yearlings at this time to sell in June. He planned to do the same this year because he is convinced the mad cow scare will be short-lived.
"I wasn't looking for bargains," he said. "I thought if the prices were the same as they had been, I would buy. I didn't think the sellers would be scared."
It is a scene repeated at cattle auctions across the region as wary cattle producers hang on to their livestock a little longer to see what the market will do.
Many are attending auctions this week just to watch the sale prices. Some come looking for bargains. A few come to sell cows.
John Brazle, owner of the Winfield Livestock Auction, said after the sale prices were only a little lower -- about $4 to $5 a hundredweight cheaper than before the scare.
Feeder cattle and stocker calves were 4 percent to 5 percent lower, but the prices for packer cows were as high as ever, he said.
"If it don't get any worse than it got today, we ought to be able to survive," Brazle said.
Cambridge rancher Floyd Smith bought 15 head of cattle for $91 a hundredweight in Winfield. He figured the same cattle would have cost him $102 per hundredweight before Christmas.
Smith has attended a couple of other auctions in Kansas and Oklahoma to buy cattle for himself and others. Everywhere he has gone, the numbers of cattle for sale are down.
"They gambled this long, they are going to gamble a little bit longer," he said.
At Kansas' biggest livestock sale barn, Pratt Livestock, about 1,200 animals already had been consigned for Thursday's auction, said secretary Lavetta Keller. A year ago, 1,800 were sold the first week and 6,400 the second week in Pratt.
Larry Goad, a cattle producer from Burbank, Okla., paid $797.65 for two lightweight heifers he bought at the Winfield sale, averaging $95.53 a hundredweight for the two.
"I can't see a whole lot different prices," he said.