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Bid high, bid often

Tennessee’s auctioneers play a crucial role in farming success
Story and photos by Claire Hill 4/22/2022


Joshua Houston, a native of Bell Buckle, is the Grand Champion of the Columbia Breakfast Rotary Mule Day Auctioneers Championship. The contest was held at the Columbia location of United Producers Inc. and had participants from six states. Money raised from the auction benefited the club’s scholarship fund.
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Since the birth of our nation, the hypnotic chant of the auctioneer has been the soundtrack of agriculture. The architectural features of auction barns across the state may have changed over the years, but the sounds of business have remained much the same. 

The rhythmic auctioneer call can be heard from the entryways, stands, and catwalks as interested buyers inspect and purchase cattle, hogs, goats, horses, and sheep. 

But the business of agricultural auctioneering has also become a spectator’s sport.  

With a rich history in the auctioneering industry, Columbia’s ever-popular Mule Day has been well attended since the 1840s, when it got its start as Breeder’s Day. Back then, the festival was a single-day livestock show and mule market held on the first Monday in April. Over time, the event evolved from the mule market to a multi-day festival attracting thousands to the parade, various mule shows, and wide-ranging entertainment at Maury County Park. 

As a homage to the county’s heritage in the mule market, the Columbia Breakfast Rotary Club (CBRC) launched the Mule Day Auctioneers Contest 11 years ago. In the 2022 contest — held Friday, April 1, at Columbia’s United Producers Inc. Sale Barn — 22 auctioneers from six states brought their unique style of auctioneering to the event. Ten of those participants were Tennesseans, while the others traveled from Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Indiana to take part. The contest is a popular activity for locals and visitors to Maury County during the multi-day celebration.

“In addition to being fun to watch, auctions are a great way for farmers to sell their livestock,” says Joshua Houston, who took top honors in this year’s auctioneer contest. “It’s the best method of marketing because there is no set limit on the price.”  

The event has traditionally raised money for various scholarships, and this year, the Rotary Club also partnered with American Legion Post 19 to help support local veterans. 

“Giving back to the community is important to me and our club members, and we are thrilled to be able to say ‘thank you’ to our local veterans,” says CBRC President Caleb Mathis. “We also see academic scholarships as vital to the success of the youth in our community, and we are proud to support students for all four years of their college experience with funds raised from the contest.”   

Caleb explains that contest participants donate three items to be auctioned and are judged on their introduction, clarity, bid catching, and determination if the judges would “hire” the auctioneer. After the top 10 contestants are selected, they compete again to sell five items each for the American Legion Post 19 portion of the auction. This year’s contest raised more than $15,000 for the CBRC scholarship fund. 

Joshua’s father, John, a longtime auctioneer and director of business services for ProTrition, one of Tennessee Farmers Cooperatives’ joint venture companies, says the industry is vital for farmers.

“I’m extremely proud of Joshua and the work that he puts into his career every day,” says John. “Farmers across the state rely on auctioneers to help sell their goods and services, and I’m proud that my son has become a part of that proud tradition.”

Both John and Joshua work as auctioneers and affiliate brokers with Gary Realty & Auctions in Spring Hill. Joshua has been an auctioneer for nine years and works with a variety of clients selling livestock, estates, farms, and homes, and this was his fourth time entering in the contest.

“Auctioneering is a great career choice, and I would encourage young people like myself to look into it,” Joshua advises. “It can be done full or part time and is a flexible option to help make a difference in Tennessee agriculture, all while supporting your family.” 

Auction markets are a vital aspect of economic success in the agricultural industry in Tennessee, Joshua says. With a rich history in American agriculture, auctioneers sold products such as crops, imports, livestock, clapboard, tools, tobacco, fur, and farms dating back to the early 1600s when pilgrims first came from England to America. 

“The history of auctioneering is amazing,” says Joshua. “According to the National Auctioneers Association, George Washington himself was an avid auction buyer. And even today, auctioneers are commonly referred to as ‘Colonel’ because only Civil War officers with the Colonel rank could conduct auctions of war plunder and spoils of the war.”  

J.T. Shouse, a member of United Farm & Home Co-op and a livestock auctioneer, says auctioneering is about “developing relationships and helping people find their passion.” 

“I love what I do, and it’s rewarding to see the animals end up at good homes and farms,” says J.T. “I hope I can continue to help promote livestock and farming through my role as an auctioneer.”  

For more information about the Columbia Breakfast Rotary Club Mule Day Auctioneers Contest, visit the Columbia Breakfast Rotary Club’s Facebook page. For more information about how to find an auctioneer, visit

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