There was no shortage of skeptics when Superior Livestock Auction held its first video sale at the National Western Stock Show in 1987. Buying cattle represented a huge investment, and successful cowboys all possessed a keen eye for livestock with a knack for identifying lots that would work. Bidding on cattle viewed only from a video clip meant placing significant trust in the auction company to fairly and accurately represent the animals.
Jim Odle and his partner Buddy Jeffers knew developing that trust would be critical to the success of their startup—the first video cattle auction to incorporate satellite broadcast technology making it possible to create a nationwide livestock market. That first sale in Denver sold all of the 21,000 cattle offered, and the business was off and running.
“The video sales were so successful the first few months that we were outrunning our bookkeeping capacity,” Odle remembers. “We would have been thrilled to sell 30,000 or 40,000 head that first year, but we were growing fast and so we increased our staff to accommodate the fast growth of the business.”
All told, Superior Livestock Auction offered 336,000 cattle in 1987, selling 282,000 head, a sale rate of 84%. Office manager Mona Wahlert says the business survived those early growing pains, with much of the credit going to the honesty and integrity of Odle and Jeffers.
Continued success followed in the coming years, with peak sales volume reached in 2005 with 1,913,600 head offered and 1,680,000 head sold (88%). In 2018 Superior Livestock Auction offered 1,483,700 cattle, selling 1,336,400 head (90%).
As a teenager Odle aspired to become an auctioneer and practiced for many hours from the seat of a Massey Harris tractor. In 1959 he married Ruth Ann Dunn, an Eaton, Colo., farm girl and they farmed and ranched near Kuner until 1969. Odle also sorted cattle two days a week at the Weld County Livestock Commission Company in Greeley, and it was there he was given his first chance as an auctioneer. Although Odle never attended auctioneer school, he quickly mastered a clear chant that soon made him an accomplished auctioneer. He sold weekly auctions in Wyoming and Colorado, and was named the World Livestock Auctioneer Central Region Champion in 1972 and the Western Region Champion in 1978.
Odle had ownership interests in several livestock auctions, including those in Greeley and Brush, Colo., and Amarillo, Tex. He was also a co-owner of Odle Cumberlin Auctioneers from 1972 through 1986, selling farm machinery, real estate, business liquidations and heavy equipment throughout the western U.S. In fall of 1979 they began conducting seasonal video cattle auctions held in hotel ballrooms with a video tape of the cattle being shown to buyers that traveled to the sale site to bid.
In the fall of 1986 Odle and Jeffers merged their video cattle auctions and incorporated satellite broadcast technology to create Superior Livestock Auction. It was a watershed moment for the cattle industry. Superior’s satellite video auctions created transparency and reduced the amount of travel required for buyers, sellers and the cattle, reducing stress and input costs for all.
“The satellite video auctions proved to be a great asset for cattle producers west of the Continental Divide in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah,” Odle says. “They didn’t have a good market for their cattle at the time due to location and market access. I’ve had several ranchers tell me the satellite auctions saved them and their ranch financially.”
Superior Livestock combined old-fashioned values with modern technology and adapted as technology rapidly changed through the years. Superior grew to become the nation’s largest livestock auction company, marketing over 35 million cattle since its inception.
The success of video auctions, Odle says, also encouraged industry developments beyond market access.
“Producers quickly discovered video auctions offered a great opportunity to earn premiums for quality genetics and calf preconditioning programs,” he says. “As video auctions have grown in popularity, so has the focus on genetics and vaccination programs on the ranch to reduce illness and improve performance for the buyer. That has resulted in premiums for those cattle.”
In the spring of 2007, Odle and Jeffers sold their interests in Superior Livestock Auction. Two years later, after Superior’s new owners fell into financial instability, Odle was asked by the lending institution to rejoin the company as general manager. (Jeffers had passed away shortly after the company was first sold.)
Odle continues to own an interest in Superior Livestock. During his career he has also served several industry associations. He was a member of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Marketing Committee and actively participated as a member of the Livestock Marketing Association, National Auctioneers Association and the Colorado Auctioneers Association.
In 2018 he was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum’s Hall of Great Westerners for his “exemplary model of Western ideals and significant impact on the history of the west.” Odle was also recognized in 2017 with the Livestock Publication’s Council’s Headliner award.
Other awards include the Colorado Auctioneer Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Record Stockman’s Man of the Year in Livestock in 1997. Odle and Jeffers were both awarded the 2006 Beef Industry Vision award, which recognizes individuals in the cattle industry who have incorporated innovation into their operation that has enhanced not only their business but also the livestock industry as a whole. They were also inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2015, Odle was inducted into the Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame.
In addition to his accomplishments in the agricultural industry, Odle also co-founded “Cowboy Church TV,” which nationally broadcasts church services. Odle is also a large supporter of the All American Beef Battalion, a foundation which honors those who serve in the armed forces with a steak dinner prior to, and upon return from, deployment.
The Odles own and operate a farm and ranch south of Brush where they raise quarter horses, run a cow and calf operation and restore cars and trucks. The two have raised four children and now enjoy spending time with their 13 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
2019 Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame: Jim Odle's Revolutionary Marketing
Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame
The Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame was launched in 2009 to celebrate the rich traditions of the cattle-feeding industry and recognize individuals who have devoted their careers to producing safe, quality beef and improving production practices. Merck Animal Health, Osborn and Barr, and Drovers are the founding partners. A reception in January was held to formally announce the 2019 inductees: James Herring and Bill Foxley.