Utah's Livestock Industry and Utah Railroads

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This page was last updated on June 14, 2021.

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Movement of livestock in Utah was mostly stock from Idaho, Montana, and Washington that moved through Ogden, and then eastward after the required 28-hour rest period. Most of the activity at Ogden was for the Swift packing plant (and its predecessor companies). Like Ogden, livestock moving through Salt Lake City, mostly hogs and cattle, came from Idaho and Montana for the cattle, and from points eastward for the hogs. The Salt Lake Union Stock Yards existed almost solely to serve the adjacent Cudahy packing plant, until the post-war period when UP began running its Day Live Stock. I highly recommend reading pages 164 and 165 of Mark Hemphill's LA&SL book, published in 1995. (With Mark's permission, I can easily scan the text and share it here.)

(View a photo by Emil Albrecht showing a train with empty stock cars returning from California, passing through Farmington, bound for Ogden in October 1949)

Ogden was where UP, SP, and D&RGW interchanged livestock. The first facility in Ogden was a corral jointly owned by Oregon Short Line and Rio Grande Western. Completed in 1898, it continued to grow until it was competing for space among the roundhouses and car shops of Union Pacific and Southern Pacific. In April 1917, a new Ogden Union Stock Yards was opened for business. Located across the Weber River west of the old stock yard, it was owned by Ogden Packing & Provision Co., which was purchased in 1924 by American Packing & Provision Co., a large interstate corporation that controlled the slaughter and sale of livestock products, mostly beef and sheep. In 1935, a federal court ordered the breakup of this monopoly, and in 1936 Ogden Union Stock yards was sold to Denver Union Stock Yards. The facility grew and continued in operation throughout the late 1950s and 1960s as trucks took over the transportation of livestock. Ogden Union Stock Yards finally closed in 1970.

Ogden had 356 pens for all livestock, and 214 low pens for hogs only. The yards had 19 loading chutes for single-deck cars and 14 loading chutes for either single-deck or double-deck cars. In comparison, facilities at Denver were roughly three times the size of those at Ogden, with 1,000 pens and 79 loading chutes. Ogden was the largest stock yards west of Denver.

The peak year for numbers of animals was 1945, with almost 1.8 million head of sheep, 300,000 head of cattle, and 350,000 hogs. The year 1945 was also the peak year for livestock-related rail traffic, with 20,000 cars of sheep, 19,000 cars of cattle, and 6,000 cars of hogs being either unloaded at Ogden, or loaded after sale, or re-loaded after the prescribed five-hour rest period. Sheep and the processing of lamb and mutton was the reason Swift & Co. purchased the American Packing & Provision Co.'s plant in Ogden in 1949. The Swift plant in Ogden furnished almost all of that company's lamb and mutton meat for Eastern markets.

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake Union Stock Yards -- Information about the stock yards located near Salt Lake City, in North Salt Lake.

Salt Lake City Meat Packing -- Information about the larger meat packing plants in and near Salt Lake City.


Ogden Union Stock Yards -- Information about the stock yards located in Ogden.

Ogden Meat Packing -- Information about the larger meat packing plants in Ogden.

Beaver County Hog Growing

(Research is ongoing; more will be added as the need arises.)

Vic Saunders wrote the following on December 31, 2018:

I worked for the Utah Farm Bureau as it's Vice President-Communications for 14 years. I will verify everything Mark has said about hauling cattle and hogs. The decentalization of the slaughter industry and the rise of the trucking industry was the factor that allowed Farm Bureau to construct the Salina Livestock Auction in the 1970's to serve the Utah cattle and sheep industry, with animals arriving from the north and south via US-89, and the east and west on I-70. It remains the largest and possibly only livestock auction operating in Utah today. When Smithfield Foods began operating Circle 4 farms in the Milford and Minersville area, their original intent was build a slaughter house in Milford and process the hogs locally. In the meantime they hired Gurney Trucking out of Aurora to ship their finished hogs to Los Angeles and Clougherty Packing Co. That arrangement turned out so well that not a single pig was ever shipped by rail, and the packing plant and it's promised employment was never built.

From the late 1940s until the early 1990s, there were almost daily shipments of hogs through Utah on the Union Pacific. Until the stock yards in Ogden and Salt Lake City closed in 1970, some hogs were shipped from Utah growers on this daily train. The HOGX stock car movements on Union Pacific came to an end in 1994. In 1988, the Clougherty Packing company had formed a partnership with a California hog farmer, then took over the entire operation in 1994. In 1992 Clougherty Packing company also started buying hogs raised in northeastern Arizona, which were trucked to California. (Read more about shipping hogs by rail)

Livestock on UP's LA&SL

Livestock On UP's LA&SL -- The text from pages 164 and 165 of Mark Hemphill's book about UP's Los Angeles & Salt Lake route between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. The book was published in 1995, and the text is used here with permission. Includes comments from late 2018.

The 28 Hour Law

First passed in March 1873; repealed due to being inadequate facilities, i.e., inadequate fencing, inadequate provisions for feeding and watering, and no requirement for a dry location for animals to rest.

New law passed in June 1906, with more complete description of facilities needed to rest animals.

The 28 hour law did not apply to livestock movements by truck until September 2005. And since this is relatively recent, there are lots of on-line sources with discussions both pro and con. And many of these sources include some background about the history of livestock movements in general.

Surprisingly, the 28 hour law is barely mentioned in "Prime Cut, Livestock Raising and Meatpacking in the United States, 1607-1983" by Jimmy M. Skaggs. It's a good book but it barely mentions the 28 hour law except in passing.

The Livestock Business

The following humorous note was among Kenneth Knowles' personal papers:

The Livestock Business

Livestock are animals that are bred and raised to keep the producer broke, the commission man confused and the buyer crazy. They are born in the spring, pastured in the summer, mortgaged in the fall and given away in the winter.

They vary in size, color, weight and market grade. The man who can guess nearest to their weight and market grade is called a bonded livestock buyer by the public, a robber by the rancher and a poor businessman by his banker.

Among buyers and sellers, some say the market will go up, and some say it will go down. What actually happens is that it goes up after you sold and down after you have bought.

When you have light cattle, the buyers want heavy ones. When you have heifers, they want steers. When they are thin, they should be fat, and when they are fat, the tallow market goes to hell.

There is only one thing of which you can be sure: The commission man will always say, "You should have been here yesterday."

More Information

Text of 28-Hour Law, at Cornell University (current law)

Text of 1906 28-Hour Law -- PDF of text of 1906 law available through Google Books

Triple-deck Union Pacific hog car -- A page describing the UP stock car preserved at the Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum in Campo, California.

Wikipedia article about railroad stock cars