October 2017
Farm & Field

Evolving to Meet the Needs of the Cattle Industry

Valley Stockyard moves to Moulton.

 

Billy Wallace holds a picture of his father, Johnny. Billy was a second-generation lead auctioneer at Valley Stockyard.

Without much fanfare, Valley Stockyard in Decatur closed its doors on Wednesday, Aug. 9, after 63 years of selling cattle. The next week, Valley Stockyard opened its doors at Highway 157 in Moulton and went back to the business of selling cattle.

In 1954, Ewell Russell and Johnny Wallace established Valley Stockyard at its Decatur location. In 2017, Johnny’s son, Billy, and his partner Dr. Steve Osborne moved the operation to neighboring Moulton in Lawrence County.

Billy, age 61, grew up at the barn and had various responsibilities there over the years. The most noticeable job was of lead auctioneer. Billy, like his father before him, served as lead auctioneer for 21 years. Mark Lane has filled the role since 2005.

Johnny learned his auctioning skills from his father at the age of 16. He passed on the trade to Billy, who took the gavel at Valley Stockyard in 1984. In addition to learning from his father, Billy also attended an auctioneering clinic in Oklahoma to perfect his skill.

"A livestock auctioneer needs to have a little chip on his shoulder, be a little arrogant – but not cocky," Billy said. "He has to let everyone know he’s in control. They don’t call an auctioneer a colonel for no reason at all."

Billy said, above all an auctioneer must know his audience. Sales to farmers are typically slower than the ones for professional buyers. Those can get in a rhythm and move at a pretty fast clip.

Besides having only three lead auctioneers in 63 years, Valley Stockyard has been blessed to employ only three bookkeepers in its history. Leemon Hogan served 1933-1967 and Geraldine Wiley 1967-1998. Currently, Judy Keenum fills this role she started in 1999.

Judy Keenum is Valley Stockyard’s bookkeeper.

 

"We’re like a family," said Billy, noting the longevity of employees reflects the stability of the stockyard. "It gets into your blood pretty bad."

While he does appreciate and prefer the permanence that comes with long-term employees, Billy and his staff have taken to the modern way of the industry. They have changed with the times.

The family feeling extends to his producers. Over the years, Billy said he has come to know most of his regular producers on a personal level. Many are not commercial cattle farmers; they have day jobs, so to speak, and have cattle as well.

"That’s just what people do," Billy said. "Folks work at a regular job and then they have cattle. They need a place to market their cattle because they can’t fill a truckload by themselves."

Billy recalled, during his father’s tenure, most of the producers were farmers by trade. He noted that many people of his generation had to go get a job in town. Those people can’t quite leave the farming life behind completely.

"It’s a passion-driven life," Billy said. "I hate to see when we get bad press in the cattle industry. Nearly everybody I know in the cattle business just loves cattle. That’s why they do it. They’re certainly not in it for the money."

To better serve their cattle producers, Valley Stockyard moved its sale from Thursday to Wednesday a few years ago. Billy explained that the buyers are looking to fill their orders each week and once those orders are filled, they quit buying for the week. This results in auctions held later in the week often not faring as well.

He noted, to his knowledge, there are no Friday sales in the state of Alabama. This is a shift in style for the cattle-buying market. Previously, cattle purchased at the end of the week were held over to begin filling the next order. Billy said that’s not the case now. Once a buyer has his orders filled, he quits buying for the week.

"We have to evolve with the industry to survive," Billy said.

In addition to the way buyers purchase their loads, he’s seen other changes in the business necessitating changes on his part. For instance, buyers aren’t always present for sales. Many sales are handled over the internet or telephone.

As open as he is to embracing technology and what it can do for the marketing of cattle, some old habits die hard.

"We are just an old auctioneering family," he said. "We are heavily involved with the marketing end of it. At most stockyards, the owners are not involved in the auctioneering. We believe in market support. We believe that’s the best way to help our customers."

"We look forward to being in Moulton," Billy stated. "It will give a better opportunity to serve more people."

 Contact Information

Persons interested in more information may contact Valley Stockyard by emailing them at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You may call them at 256-353-7664 or 256-974-5900, or visit their website at valleystockyard.com.

 

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.