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A Glimpse into The Ava Sales Barn

It takes a lot good people to make an agricultural area successful. Among them, farmers, haulers, feed and fertilizer folks, feed lot workers, and sale barn operators. In Ava, the Douglas County Livestock Auction, better known as the “Ava Sale Barn,” is owned and operated by father and son team, David and Derek McGill, and brothers, Joe and Danny Shannon. The team bought the business in November 2004 and have been running it together ever since.

It takes the entire McGill-Shannon team to keep the fast paced business running smoothly. The partners track the ever-changing market prices, making sure their customers — both the sellers and the buyers — get a fair deal. They attend other auctions, keeping their fingers on the local pulse of cattle sales. They visit farms to look at cows, offering advice on when to hold them back from sale and when to bring them to auction. When cows are brought in for sale, they sort them by type and weight, keeping the batches uniform. Joe’s wife, Debbie, and David’s wife, Toni Ann, work in the office, keeping up with the paperwork and bookkeeping, and Joe and Debbie’s son, JD, works with the men in the barn and as an auctioneer.

Sales at Douglas County Livestock Auction are held on Thursdays. They begin at eleven a.m. with feeders, then move on to the second sale, cows and bulls. But, don’t ask them what time the second sale will start. It could be at three o’clock in the afternoon or eleven o’clock at night. It just depends on how many feeders they have to sell first. While they specialize in beef cows, every once in a while there is a dairy steer or slaughter cow in the mix. They don’t hold dairy auctions, though. There aren’t enough large dairies in the area to sustain the sales at their auction house.

Weather and holidays permitting, the McGill’s and Shannon’s move an average of twelve-hundred head every week, with some auctions selling as many as three thousand, and some as few as five hundred. The barn is only closed the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and, if it falls on a Thursday, Independence Day. That means well over fifty-thousand head of cattle – local cattle — change hands every year through the Douglas County Livestock Auction.

The heaviest sales are in the fall, when spring calves are added to the market. The slowest sales are when the weather is bad and the cows can’t be moved and when most farmers are busy with other things, like haying.

Interestingly, sale barn ownership runs in the blood of both the McGill and Shannon families. Joe and Danny’s grandfather, Doc Shannon, and his son, Harley Van Shannon, bought the Douglas County Livestock Auction in the late 1960’s when it sat where the Ava Century Bank now rests. Doc and Harley ran it for twelve to fifteen years, then sold it.

The sale barn business went through numerous hands, including those of the McGill family, who owned it in the late 1970’s. The McGill’s built the current sale barn on Highway 5, eight miles south of Ava. Sometime later, the old sale barn burned down. The McGill’s eventually sold the new one. It went through more hands, eventually landing in those of the Kelly’s.

In a twist of fate, Joe and Danny Shannon bought the Wright County Livestock Auction in January 1994 and ran it for nine years. They sold it to the Kelly’s who wanted to run both the Wright and Douglas County Livestock Auctions. In 2004, however, the Kelly’s decided they had their hands full enough with the Wright County sale barn and sold The Douglas County Livestock Auction to the Shannon and McGill partnership. So the McGill’s and Shannon’s ended up with their family’s old barn. Circumstances that pleased everyone.

According to Debbie Shannon, now is the best time ever to be selling cattle. “Right now beef prices are very, very high.” She explained that a few years ago, when prices were low, farmers hung on to their old cows, finding it more valuable to use them to produce one or two more calves than to sell at market. Then prices began to rise and farmers began selling their old cows for slaughter. At the same time, the South, most notably Texas, was hit with a devastating drought. Because the drought made it too expensive for many farmers to feed their cattle, many were forced to sell their entire herds. For a while there were cows aplenty on the market. Then the number of old cows and drought-induced herd sales began to dwindle and prices began to rise again. Now, there are fewer cattle going to market than at any time since 1952. Prices are sky high. Since the South’s drought has not yet subsided, it appears cattle prices may remain high for some time.

In the seven years that David and Derek McGill and Joe and Danny Shannon have owned the Douglas County Livestock Auction, they’ve worked with farmers and feed lot workers and a host of others in the community. They’ve participated in the sale of more than four-hundred-thousand cows. And, they’ve done it well, retaining their excellent reputation as solid business and community members.

The four partners and their families don’t credit themselves for their success, though. Instead, said Debbie speaking on behalf of all of them, “The people in Ava and the surrounding areas are just the most wonderful! We appreciate them so very much!”