Moseley Mallette, who has been a cattle producer in Vancleave since 1959, says he has never seen the cattle market as good as it is today. That is one reason why the Lucedale Livestock Producers Stockyard recently had the biggest sales day in its 18-year history — and the biggest sale in state stockyard history — with sales of $1.7 million on April 27.
“The cattle business is good, good, good — the best it has ever been in my time,” said Mallette, who is a director of the Lucedale Livestock Producers Stockyard. “The prices are the highest I have ever seen. I sold heifers recently for $1,550 each. The cattle business has skyrocketed.”
Mallette, whose farm is located in rural Jackson County on the Coast, can recall the days before the Lucedale Stockyard Cooperative was formed in 1987 when he had to carry his cattle to a stockyard in Hattiesburg for sale. Now he only has to go a short distance north to sell his stock in Lucedale.
“It is just wonderful opportunity for everybody who has cattle to go there and market them,” Mallette said. “The Lucedale Livestock is almost number one in the state of Mississippi for selling cattle. We have people who come out of Florida, and all through Louisiana and Alabama.”
The economic impact of the stockyard is estimated at $24 million per year, said Moley Herring, manager of Lucedale Livestock.
“We get a lot of business from Mississippi, and also from Alabama, Louisiana and Florida,” Herring said. “The market is good, and we sell a lot of cattle region-wise. People enjoy coming here. Some people come a day ahead of time, stay at a hotel across from the cattle yard, sell their cattle, and buy more the next day. It is a pretty interesting deal. I was at a local meeting the other day, and people didn’t realize that we have folks come here from all over. People come from a long distance and are lodging here, buying fuel here and eating here. It really helps the local economy.”
At the April 27 sale that broke records, 2,324 head of cattle were sold. That was quite a milestone for the cooperative business venture founded in 1987 after a previous stockyard closed. Cattle producers in Mississippi and Alabama invested $550,000 to get the stockyard started.
“We wanted to keep the business in Lucedale, so several of us decided to band together and make a cooperative of it,” Herring said. “It started out with just a few men who put the deal together. They sold stock in the business to area farmers when they formed the corporation. And through the director’s leadership and guidance, this stockyard has come from virtually the last place livestock operation in the state to the premier stockyard in the state.”
The stockyard, which also handles hogs, sheep and goats, services not only the Gulf Coast, but the livestock market nationwide. A lot of cattle sold go to states like Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas.
“Our marketing techniques have worked so well that we compete on a national market,” Herring said. “We accept bids over the telephone, and the cattle are shipped to the buyer.”
In June, the stockyard will mark another milestone. It will become the first stockyard in the state — and possibly the first in the Southeast — to allow buyers to bid for cattle on the Internet.
“It is going to increase our marketing tools,” Herring said. “We will be able to reach farther into the market rather than just scratching the surface locally. We will be able to direct market nationally. We will have pictures of the cattle on the Internet so someone in Amarillo, for example, can bid and buy the cattle.”
It takes a lot of work and coordination to handle thousands of head of cattle on Wednesday sales days. Cattle are offloaded into pens, and tagged, blood tested, and pregnancy tested. Five employees are needed to help prepare for the sale Tuesday, and 35 people work the sale on Wednesday.
“There is a lot of processing to it,” Herring said. “The cattle are placed on hay and water, and taken care of until they are sold. Once bought, they have to be loaded on big tractor trailers and shipped where they are going. Usually they are shipped out Wednesday, and sometimes they all don’t get out of here until 6 to 7 p.m.”
Direct — and indirect — impacts
There is a lot of indirect economic impact from the stockyard involving impacts to truck driving and transport companies, feed businesses and equipment businesses. But most of all, it allows cattle producers a good place to market their cattle.
“Without this operation here, most of your 40- to 50-head herds would dissolve,” Herring said. “They wouldn’t have a good place to market their cattle. That is the basics of our business, small herds. We are helping the small people to stay in business, and get the most for the product they are raising. That in turn helps everyone because it is local money going right back into the economy.”
Herring said often smaller producers will come in and say, “I’m putting this cow in my grandaughter’s name for college.” Or, “I’m putting this cow in my son’s name. He needs to get his truck repaired.”
“A lot of money is spread around that gets put back into the community in some way,” Herring said. “Cattle are probably the only cash value asset that many farmers have left. You can take a cow to town and get something for it. A lot of products you have to wait and see what someone will give for it. Cattle can be turned into cash quickly. You can always go out there and sell 10 to 12 head of cows, and get some money to do something with.”
There is a continuing trend towards fewer and fewer small farms in America, with most production being done by large, corporate farms. That is also true with ranching.
“There are not as many small ranchers as in the past,” Herring said. “Most of the older generation is getting out, and the younger generation is not as likely to get into it. A few younger people are getting into the cattle business. Some producers from Mobile and Baldwin County are moving this way to buy farm land so they can establish a cow herd.”
Herring credits the success of the stockyard to the customers.
“We’re just really proud of the fact our people have made us what we are today,” he said. “We are recognized nationally, whereas most markets are just recognized in their certain area. That is something we are proud of because of the support we have gotten from the people on the Gulf Coast. Our success and growth is a credit to them. Without the customer, you couldn’t make it.”
Cooperatives can be the most cost effective for producers because a private business isn’t reaping all the profits. But sometimes cooperatives fail because people can’t agree. Herring said they have been fortunate that their shareholders work together for the benefit of all.
“We have a pretty unified group of people,” Herring said. “They work in a manner where their accomplishments have been tremendous. They took a business that was $500,000 in debt, and in five years it was paid for. Then it has continued to progress and grow for the past 13 years. With a lot of cooperatives, you have some power struggles. But our people work together.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.