Agriculture is Mississippi’s largest industry, with cattle and calves alone generating over $300 million in revenue. Nearly 1 million head graze across the state’s lush grasses. With a mild year-round climate and long livestock legacy, Mississippi seems like the right place to get into the cattle business.
But that’s not what motivates the people behind Southeast Mississippi Livestock, Cattlemens Stockyard and Tadlock Stockyard.
“All we’ve ever done is cattle,” says Glynn Robinson, owner of Cattlemens Stockyard in West Point.
In other words, this work is in their blood.
After a career as a livestock agent, Mike Keene was ready to retire. But when the board of directors for Southeast Mississippi Livestock asked him to join them, he couldn’t say no.
Located in Hattiesburg, Southeast Mississippi Livestock is a cooperatively run barn. Started in the 1960s by a collection of farmers who were dissatisfied with the two local sale barns, the stockyard continues to operate with the community’s best interests in mind. The board of directors comprises 15 members, one from every stockholder’s county.
Now the barn’s manager, Keene has seen cattle sales shift dramatically in recent years. “We’re doing video sales now,” he says.
Every Monday, customers can watch the sale from the comfort of their homes and can even bid remotely during special sales.
“We still have a lot of people there in person, but now we can do it differently than we used to,” Keene says.
Technology aside, many customers still show up in person to watch the sale and grab lunch at the on-site cafe.
“A lot of people come here just to visit and talk,” Keene says. “It’s still a social gathering for a lot of people.”
Since those founding farmers “took charge of their own destiny,” in Keene’s words, one thing has remained the same – the stockyard’s emphasis on local relationships. Keene spends much of his time checking in on local farmers.
“We try to let them know we’re interested in them, that we’re dependent on them and what the market is doing now,” he says. “It’s all built on relationships.”
As Glynn Robinson tells it, the origin story of Cattlemens Stockyard is simple: “We’ve been in the cattle business forever. We saw the need to have a barn in our town again, and that’s the way it started.”
Glynn’s father operated a barn in West Point for two decades before shutting the business in the 1990s. When Robinson and his partner, Rodney Johnson – a close friend who works in the timber industry – came together to form Cattlemens Stockyard five years ago, they had a vision – to uphold the market.
“We try to take care of people’s cattle like I’d take care of mine,” Robinson says.
Robinson worries about the market’s unpredictability, price gouging by packers and whether the cattle business will be a viable choice for the next generation. And although his son wants to go into the business, it seems he is in the minority.
“In the livestock industry, we’re seeing more people getting out than getting in,” Robinson observes.
In response, Cattlemens Stockyard continues doing what they can by conducting business honestly and looking out for their farmers’ best interests.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re the biggest or littlest barn – my goal is to do what we set out to do,” Robinson says. “I want people to know that when they bring their cattle to Cattlemens that they will bring market price and that we’ll take care of them.”
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At Tadlock Stockyards, working with livestock is a family affair.
“My dad is the president, my mom is the vice president and my sister, Greggina, is the office manager,” says barn manager Char’Lesa Tadlock. “From the time I could walk, I’ve been out here helping – or at least thinking I was helping.”
As children, Tadlock and her sister worked side by side, running around the stockyard.
“There aren’t very many privately owned stockyards left in the state,” Tadlock says. “We have the largest barn in Mississippi, and we’re privately and family-owned.”
While a stockholder model has advantages, the Tadlocks have noticed a shift among barns in their area.
“They’re under new ownership constantly, always changing – but ours is always consistent,” Tadlock says.
Interacting with people each day in the stockyard creates a dynamic work environment for the Tadlocks.
“There’s never a dull moment in the stockyard. The people you come into contact with – everyone’s got a different personality, just like a cow,” she laughs.
For four generations, the Tadlocks have served their neighbors, and their legacy continues. “My sister just recently had a baby,” Tadlock says. “So now we’re going into the fifth generation.”
See more: How Mississippi Farmers Care for Cattle