The sales every Thursday at the Calhoun Stockyard on Ga. 53 just south of Calhoun bring livestock producers from all across Northwest Georgia, as well as parts of Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and Mississippi. It’s easily one of the largest weekly sales in the Southeast.
Dennis Little of Coosa and his brother-in-law Gene Williams from Rosedale own the stockyard. They started out in Rome at the cattle barn on Darlington Drive back in 1986. “I saw a need for a market that was run like one should be. Where everybody gets treated alike whether you’re selling one animal or 100,” said Williams.
They lost their lease at the Rome location in 1994 and found the 52-acre tract off Ga. 53 in 1995. Since their first sale in Gordon County, Williams and Little have expanded their sale barn twice. “It’s a good problem to have,” Little said.
While cattle is the top seller, each Thursday morning sale starts off with goats and sheep. They’re also apt to have donkeys, horses and even llamas on any given week. “Whatever a man has, we’re here for him,” said Little.
“Cattle sales are good right now, it’s actually the best market we’ve seen in many months,” said Little. “It’s a supply and demand thing.”
A lot of cattle were sold off during the drought years of 2006 through 2008.
R. Curt Lacy, a professor in the agriculture college at the University of Georgia, reported in Rome last month that Georgia’s beef cattle herd is down by close to 85,000 in the last decade. The calf crop in 2009 was one of the lowest in 60 years. Lacy is predicting significantly higher prices for beef cattle in the next two to three years.
Last week farmers bought and sold more than 1,000 cows at the Calhoun Stockyard. Slaughter cows were bringing anywhere from 43 cents to 57 cents a pound.
The livestock sale is like a social event for a lot of folks. Ol’ timers come out just to watch the auctioneer work the crowd. There’s a bit of magic in the chant of auctioneer Ed Lepper from Summerville.
Floyd County cattleman Thad Rush has been a farmer his entire life. It’s not a hobby for him. “Cattle are down, kind of like the rest of the economy,” Rush said. “ Slaughter cows are on a spurt right now.” A slaughter cow could be an older momma cow or perhaps a steer.
Feeder steers as heavy as 600 pounds were selling for between $1.10 a pound and $1.35 a pound. Heifers, unbred females as heavy as 450 pounds, were also selling for as much as $1.14 a pound.
Dr. Ernest L. Myers, a Rome veterinarian who runs Possum Trot Animal Clinic in Rome, is present at each sale along with an inspector from the Department of Agriculture.
One of Myers’ primary responsibilities is to administer pregnancy tests on the cows. If the cows are with calf, Myers puts a mark on the animal to make potential buyers aware of the fact.
Many of the pregnant cows and heifers are sold to buyers who represent large feedlots.
Brown Packing Company of Gaffney, S.C., FPL Foods, of Augusta, the fourth largest beef processing facility in the Southeast, Martin Meats out of Godwin, N.C. and others are frequent buyers at the Calhoun Stockyard.
While farmers clad in their overalls and ball caps survey the livestock, there are others at the stockyard plying their wares.
Buford Powell from Junction City, Ky., is there just about every week, hawking his pasture gates.
“It’s slow, the worst I’ve ever seen,” said Powell. He’s away from home sometimes a month at a time trying to sell the gates that are made by a friend of his in Kentucky.
In addition to the regular livestock sales, Williams and Little are very conscious of the importance of keeping young people aware of the importance of agriculture and livestock in particular. In May the stockyard will host a three-day session for Berry College students, which is expected to focus on artificial insemination.
Bringing in a new generation of livestock producers is critical to the future successes of the stockyard. There aren’t as many Thad Rushes around as there used to be. Rush runs about 150 momma cows in his herd and said he’s never given a thought to getting out of the business. Little gave up his livestock back in 1996. His brother-in-law Williams still runs a registered Angus herd up in the Rosedale community.
While the situation for livestock producers is improved, there are still major obstacles to making a living at it.
“The cost of feed is our biggest expense, along with the fertilizer for our pastures,” Rush said. “Fertilizer is tied to the oil market, and there has been a tremendous price increase there the last couple of years. The price of cattle has been about the same, so it kind of puts you in a squeeze,” Rush added.
Johnny Owens, a cattleman in the Rosedale community, sold off all of his registered seed stock bulls several years ago and is considering a reduction of his cow herd by almost 50 percent.
“I want to spend more time doing other things, traveling, more time with the grandkids. Taking care of cattle is a full-time business,” Owens said.
Williams said farmers in the tri-state region are doing a good job. “A guy has to do a great job just to survive,” he said.