The last roundup


The last of the stockyards in South St. Paul is closing, and it’s OK now, I guess, to view them with some historical nostalgia. It’s a bit odd, since while they existed, many people — myself included — tried to pretend they didn’t exist.

Here’s why:

Down in the yards, it was cold, dirty, dangerous work. The worst job, the oldtimers said, was the killing floor, where men swinging sledge hammers bashed cattle in the head and rivers of blood covered the floors.

That’s from an article in the Star Tribune today. I know what you’re thinking: here comes the vegetarian lecture, what with this being Public Radio and all. But, no, I like steak. Still, I have a hard time imagining a day of work that involves sledgehammering a cow. What do you say when you get home and the spouse says, “how was your day?”

Trent Loos, who runs a Web site called Faces of Agriculture, worries that the closing of the last stockyard in South St. Paul will further dampen the typical American’s knowledge of where his/her food comes from.

I am a cattleman. The ideal day for me is spent horseback, working cattle alongside my family members. I truly love the idea of managing the cow and assisting her in the conversion of cellulose material into the essentials of human life. I enjoy providing proper animal care and identifying genetics that will consistently produce a higher quality beef product that the global consumer is willing to pay a premium for, because they need it and like it. But the sad fact is that, no matter how much I love the ranching aspect of the beef business, someone must always be involved in profitably taking the live animal and generating products that the consumer demands. History tells us that very few have been able to do that successfully for any length of time at all.

Loos says the country’s meatpacking will soon be in the hands of foreign interests “if somebody doesn’t successfully operate the packing part of the equation.”

There are other stockyards — in Zumbrota and Albany — operated by the company that runs — ran — the South St. Paul operation. There’ll be a celebration at the South St. Paul location on April 11th with guided tours.

Just don’t show me the sledgehammer.

(If you or your family have any pictures of the stockyards, please consider submitting them for News Cut. I’m also interested in hearing from people who worked in the stockyards. Contact me at

  • c

    I remember growing up on the east side of St Paul. When there was a nasty stench in the air, we blamed it on South St Paul. We were told it was coming from Pig’s Eye and the Stockyards. I am wondering how much truth there is to that.

  • jane

    it is interesting to think about

  • c

    I guess happy cows really do live in california!!!! ; )

  • Ann

    My hometown is South St. Paul, MN. School nickname: the Packers. Mascot: a holstein. I now live in North Dakota and am married to the son of a black angus rancher/farmer. 25 years later I realize the absurdity of a holstein representing a meat-packing town. I guess even when the SSP stockyards was in it’s hey-day most people didn’t realize that holsteins (that’s the black and white variety) are dairy cows, and typically aren’t slaughtered for meat. At least, to the discerning palate, most people prefer angus or hereford rather than holstein steaks on their bar-b-ques.

    And yes, we residents of SSP would blame the sometimes foul-smelling air on the stockyards, too.

    It’s too bad they are closing. It is a large, unspoken part of SSP’s history.

  • c

    “SSP stockyards was in it’s hey-day most people didn’t realize that holsteins (that’s the black and white variety) are dairy cows, and typically aren’t slaughtered for meat. ”

    Interesting, so SSP Stockyards were slaughtering holsteins for meat back in it’s “heyday”?

    Back in ’83-’85 I knew some guys who worked in the stockyards and they moved holsteins around in the pens all the time, (this is how I am familiar with my cow classification or ‘cowage’ if you will….so was the stockyards not only used for meat but for dairy as well?

  • Tuffy


    You’re using “St. Paul” and “South St. Paul” interchangably in your story, implying that South St. Paul is a section or neighborhood of St. Paul. Not true, and am awaiting the correction.

  • Bob Collins


  • c

    You know Ann you could always keep your high school mascot “The Dairy Cow” and just change the name from the “Packers” to “The Milk Men” or better yet, “The Dairy Queens”.