Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Lifestyles

July 12, 2012

Stockyards still vital to cattlemen

CROSSVILLE — Dust boiled up from the chirt drive as another trailer clanked into the parking lot, signaling the arrival of more beef on the hoof to be sold at auction.

And it is hot. The temperature gauge on the side of the concrete sales barn pushes toward the mid-90s mark

Under a cloth awning, sitting on bales of hale and sipping iced-down water and trying to eat home-made ice cream before it melts are farmers of various ages and from various locations. Their heads were walking billboards, advertising Farm Bureau, the Farmers Co-op and John Deere. The oppressive heat is just one of their topics. The effects of the heat and lack of rain are utmost on their minds.

"Corn went up $10 this week," one said he was told. Another expressed sympathy for farmers who had not cut hay prior to the recent heat wave. "Pastures are drying up," noted another.

Opened in the mid-1960s, the business was known for years as Plateau Livestock Exchange. In March of this year, Crossville Stockyard LLC took over.

The only difference between this Saturday and other Saturdays throughout the year is that Crossville Stockyards is celebrating "Customer Appreciation Day." Door prizes including cash were awarded for the price of a free ticket distributed in the office as farmers arrived. Water and shade of the awning were free to all comers as is the homemade ice cream being churned by a three-horse 1929 engine. The custom-built ice cream "wagon" was made special and purchased from an Amish man in Millersburg, OH, and just recently picked up by owner Randy Harris.

Randy, who recently retired, was looking for an activity and with encouragement from his brother, Bill, he got into the ice cream-making business. Most weeks his treats are enjoyed at church and family functions. On this Saturday it was customers of what has come to be known locally as "The Stockyards."

With Randy is Larry Rolen Jr., who also has his one-churn unit in operation. It takes about an hour for the four churns to whip out 60 gallons of the summer frosty delight. "I like meeting people and this is a good way to do that," added Randy.

Inside buyers and sellers are registering in the office and are greeted by a friendly staff who knows all the customers by first name.

Throughout the morning, cattle trailer after trailer enters the parking lot. An attendant manning a gate in the main holding area automatically swings open the wooden  door and the farmer drives in and stops. The trailer door opens and out jump the cows, glad to be free from their ride but confused as to what was happening next and where they were to run.

The yard forman is a well-known personality around town and goes by the name of Cowboy. Few outside his mother know Cowboy as Daryl Marsh. Cowboy, when not overseeing receiving and sorting of cattle for sale, is often called upon by local animal control officers and police to assist with wayward livestock.

A veternarian is on hand to inspect the cows, making sure all those presented for sale are of good health and disease free. The vet conducts pregnancy checks and ages the animals that are presented for sale. He is also available to vaccinate the ones buyers request.

As the sale start time of noon approaches, buyers slowly make their way to the small showing arena and pick out their seat for the sale. As with any group, many are creatures of habit and can be found any Saturday in the same seat, sitting with the same friends and acquaintances. They socialize as they watch and buy.

By the end of this day, some 720 head will have be run through the sale, one at a time. The cows are guided in one door, dance around the sawdust covered floor for about 30 seconds and are then shown the exit — a scene repeated over and over and over.

The auctioneer's sing-song chant serenades the cows as they enter and leave the show ring.

The stockyard today is just as vital as it has always been, Colvard said. "We provide a service for the small farmer with just a handful of cows. We provide a place for seller and buyer to meet."

Calf sales begin at noon and continue to around 3 p.m., followed by selling of larger and older animals. Baby calves are sold next and bulls sold last. Sometimes goats are thrown into the mix and twice a year, sheep are sold.

As dark fell, many had finished their business and were well on their way home. Farmers celebrated their successes, or mulled over their losses. And next week many will return to do it all over again.

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