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‘Farmers serving farmers’

McNeese family business bolstered livelihoods of the region’s livestock producers
Story and photos by Glen Liford 4/22/2022

 

From left, Mike, Don, and Mark McNeese were the last of their family to run Farmers Livestock Market in Greeneville. The family, nearly all of whom farmed, served producers from all over East Tennessee and neighboring North Carolina and Virginia through their business.
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Building a business is not for the faint of heart. The average expected lifespan of most small businesses these days, according to some analysts, is only 8 ½ years. 


The McNeese family has beaten those odds almost 10-fold with their Farmers Livestock Market in Greeneville. The weekly auction has attracted livestock producers and buyers from all over East Tennessee, as well as Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, for more than 75 years. 


The market was founded in 1947 by a group of seven friends — brothers Guy and Homer McNeese, Carl Doty, Gene Holland, Dave Hardin, Sam Broyles, and Pete Brandon. During the eight decades since, family members have continued to operate the thriving business. Homer’s sons, Charles and Wiley, along with Guy’s son, Don, and Phil Justis managed the business. Charles, Wiley, and Phil have all passed away. Most recently, Don, along with Wiley’s sons, Mike and Mark, have been running the day-to-day operations. Homer’s granddaughter, Marty McNeese Dune, also maintained an interest in the business.


“I was only 2 years old when we held the first sale on August 27, 1947,” says Don McNeese, who points to a framed photo of the historic sale hanging on the office wall. “The first sale featured veal calves, and we continued on from there.”


When the sale began, competition was keen among the many markets, he says. There was another market across town in Greeneville, and there were others held in many nearby locations, including Jonesborough, Bristol, Johnson City, Kingsport, Newport, Rogersville, and Morristown.


Cattle were big business in Greene County, and still are. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistic Service’s May 18, 2021, report, Greene County had 70,000 cattle and calves, including 34,000 beef cows — more than any other county in the state. 


“We’ve seen the mixture of beef and dairy cattle change over time as we’ve watched the dairy business change,” says Mike McNeese. “We sell more beef cattle now. And the marketing has changed, too.”


Buyers now are looking for groups of similarly sized weaned and pre-conditioned cattle and for weaned cattle that have proven vaccination histories and follow specific animal health protocols, explains Mike. To this end, the McNeeses have helped local producers establish their own sales alliance group to attract more buyers. They call it the East Tennessee Cattle Alliance, and they host eight sales a year at the Greeneville location. 


The McNeeses sold some 43,000 head of cattle through the business last year. They attribute much of their business’ success to good management, their efforts to secure more buyers, and their emphasis on customer service for both buyers and sellers. 


“We have had a hands-on approach and really worked to make this a good experience for our community,” says Don, noting that sellers come from all over East Tennessee and parts of Virginia and Kentucky to participate. “Mike was the auctioneer here for 20 years before he retired in 2017.” 


The McNeeses have demonstrated their commitment to the cattle industry in East Tennessee not only through their work at the sale barn, but also through their own farming operations. Don has a 120-head cow-calf operation, while Mike and Mark farm in partnership with their mother, maintaining a 60-head cow-calf operation and backgrounding some 150 stockers each year on the family’s Century Farm. 


Ben Bowman, assistant manager of Washington Farmers Cooperative in Jonesborough and a Greene County native, worked at the sale barn as a high school student and has fond memories of the family. 


“They’re top-notch people,” he says. “Their success and recognition are well deserved.” 


With their other business interests and the demanding sale schedule, the McNeeses finally decided it was time to sell the Farmers Livestock Market last fall, and the sale was completed in March. Washington County producers Chad Fleenor and Jason Day are the new owners, and they are both committed to carrying on the McNeeses’ legacy.


“We want to continue to serve the community as the McNeeses have done for so long,” says Chad. 


The business will now be called Volunteer Stockyards. The new owners have established a website at volunteerstockyards.com where sale schedules and important updates are available.


“We’re pleased that Chad and Jason are interested in seeing the business continue,” says Don. “It’s been an important part of this community for a long time.”


 
 
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