O’Possum Hollow Livestock has bought and sold nearly 1.5 million goats and sheep | Community

Wayne Barnes has got just about everybody’s goat in Middle Tennessee. Or maybe it just seems that way on Fridays and Saturdays.

For the past 23 years, he and wife, Abbie, have operated O’Possum Hollow Livestock, which may be the largest lamb and goat barn and shipping operation in the Southeast.

A DeKalb County native, Barnes, 55, runs his business about halfway between Smithville and McMinnville on 250 acres just inside Warren County where he has two massive barns, one that measures 12,000 square feet and can hold 2,000 head of goats and lambs and a second that is 24,500 square feet and holds 3,300.

He purchases the grass grazers from 8 am to noon Fridays and 8 am to 2 pm Saturdays with sellers coming from Kentucky, Alabama and North Carolina, and, of course, Tennessee, with a goodly spell trucking their livestock in from DeKalb, Wilson, Smith , Cannon, Overton, Lincoln, Coffee and Sequatchie counties.

“It’s busy here on Saturdays. Sometimes the trucks are lined up a half mile down the road. You bring ’em in, and we load ’em out, sort ’em, grade ’em and weigh ’em and write you a check on the spot,” said Barnes, who generally has the help or four or five farm hands in the barn where the lambs and goats are kept for a day or two.

“An average weekend we’ll take in 500 to 600 (goats and lambs). If things stay on track through the year, I’ll surpass more than one-and-a-half-million animals since ’99.”

Weekends are his heaviest days. The work doesn’t stop after the sellers have come and gone and the creatures have been placed in the holding pens.

“Saturday at 2:30, I load a three-level trailer with 400 to 500 (head of livestock) with those going to the Northeast to six stops in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. On Sundays, I load for Florida and local. On Monday, what’s left over I put ’em in the feed barn and start over,” said the hard-working man who’s ably assisted by Abbie, who runs the office, assistant Shelby Fox and farm manager Jeff Williams. (His brother, Joey, also helped with the operation until his death six years ago.)

Like many farmers and ranchers, Barnes’ affinity for what he does was passed down by his father. He was hooked at a young age.

“When I was a kid, I always liked goats. Years ago, most farmers kept a goat tied up on a fence row so they would eat the grass. I got attached to them and at 12 years old was already trading them. I also had a pretty good herd of cows in high school. I won the Middle Tennessee Beef Award twice,” recalled Barnes, who started working at the Smithville sale barn when he was 10 and later served as vice president and president of the DeKalb County High School chapter of Future Farmers of America.

“My dad (Johnny) was a cattle order buyer for the (AW) Cherrys in Lebanon. Dad got to where he was buying goats and selling to dealers. In the ’80s Dad quit buying cattle and went just to fooling with goats.

“When I graduated in 1984, I had already worked at all the local sale barns preparing for further down the road for a living, and I fooling with goats. At the time every county had a sale barn: Sparta, Cookeville, Manchester, Murfreesboro, McMinnville, Alexandria, Lebanon and Carthage.

“So, we bought this place with 28 acres in ’92. We put a trailer on it. There was an old log barn, and we put an electric fence around it and got a few goats to eat that (the grass and weeds nearby) down. So, what really got me serious was after I bought a set of goats at Manchester for $20 each. I put em ‘out two or three months and got everything cleaned up (the landscape). I took them back to the sale barn.

“My goats brought a dollar less than what I paid for them, so I got mad and bought ’em back and bought 40 more to go with ’em. So, I got to being a buyer because I got mad and started buying every week,” he ‘fessed up.

A few years later, Wayne’s father retired, and so Wayne discussed the idea of ​​building a livestock complex with his folks. In 1998 his father built the first barn, which holds 17 stalls and measures 12,096 square feet. All the lumber used in the construction of the barn came from trees they cut on their acreage.

“We started in February 1999. It was a tough go for a couple of years. Everything had got bigger. I got to spreading out and got buyers out of state. And business kept getting bigger. Before Daddy died in 2003, we managed auctions. We got up to selling 2,000 at a time and at our highest were shipping 2,500 head of goats and lambs a week.

“I managed the Columbia sale barn for a few years. At the time I was the biggest goat and sheep dealer in the Southeast and may still be. Then I shifted to manage at Manchester. I managed three of the largest goat operations in the Southeast at Columbia, Manchester and Thompson Station.

“In 2011, we built a feed lot and began buying local livestock. I kept getting bigger and bigger. The most we had was 3,500 head,” said Barnes, who in mid-April had between 600 and 700 goats and sheep in his second barn, which is 24,480 square feet, has 20 outdoor pens and was built by his stepfather, Glenn Baker.

Barnes noted, “Sales are very seasonal. In fall and spring, lambs sell better than the goats. Today it’s primarily the ethnic market buying year-round. Goats are bestselling when they weigh 50 to 60 pounds. Lambs sell best at 60 to 70 pounds. The majority of mine go directly to the slaughterhouse.

“When you get my price, you’ll also get my advice. I try to educate my customers. When I started out, I had nobody on my side, and I fought and fought. Now I try to help others. If you helped keep me in business, I’m going to help you in your business. I try to support my local farmers and producers,” he said.

Among Middle Tennessee farmers who have transported their goats and lambs to sell at O’Possum Hollow Livestock is Wilson County’s Thurman Bennett, who has been in the goat business for half a century.

“I have been taking goats to Wayne Barnes at least 10 years,” said Bennett. “I’ve got out of the goat business but been going out there anywhere from two to three times a year, and I also been hauling some for my (Cairo Bend) neighbors.

“The reason I take them to Wayne is because he weighs them as soon as you unload ’em and writes you a check right there, and there’s no commission and he pays top dollar.”

(Incidentally, Wayne has strong ties to Lebanon as his brother, Johnny Barnes, director for the University of Tennessee Extension in DeKalb County, is married to Shelly Barnes, who serves as family and consumer sciences extension agent with UT Extension in Wilson County.)

Wayne and Abbie enjoy feasting on the fruits of their labors.

“I like lamb, but I like goat better. We kill both to eat. Goat meat is similar to beef and not like deer,” he said.

Asked what the difference was in personality between goats and sheep, he answered, “Goats are mischievous and rambunctious, and sheep are tamer and easier to handle.”

Regarding the changes he’s seen in his chosen field over the decades, Barnes reported, “When I started trading as a boy you could buy plenty of goats for $10. Now a good one is $200. And today there are less and less big farmers and more hobby farmers.

“I also run about 100 beef cows. I have three enterprises: the shipping barn, the feed lot and the cattle operation. One thing I learned is diversity. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” he shared.

While Barnes wasn’t born in a barn, he’s pretty much worked in Barns most of his life, and, in fact, he met his wife of 34½ years at a stock barn in Sparta. He admits it’s been 15 years since they took a vacation, which begs the question: Has he got your goat or have the goats got him?

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