Wendy Cantrell

Wendy Cantrell owns and operates the Miller County Regional Stockyards sale barn. She says the cattle industry has had tough times recently, but she's optimistic about the future. 

ELDON, Mo. — On a Wednesday morning in early April, Wendy Cantrell was at work at the Miller County Regional Stockyards. It was a busy, exciting time, with calves to take care of and grass greening up in pastures.

Cantrell and her staff were getting ready for the sale barn’s spring all-breed registered sale on Saturday, with a regular cow sale following. There was also a preview for the spring sale on Friday evening, and the following Monday, a feeder sale.

Cantrell started her sale barn in January 2005 after growing tired of constant life on the road as an order buyer.

“I was on the road six days a week, buying cattle at sale barns,” she says.

She serves as president of the Mid-Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, and keeps in touch with the issues facing the cattle industry, like biosecurity, animal ID and the devastating flooding affecting producers in Nebraska.

Times have been tough in the industry, with political and trade issues, weather challenges and low prices.

“Too many things hit us at once,” Cantrell says.

Market outlook

Cantrell says there are benefits to the current market situation, like cheap feed, and there’s hope for the future.

“I think the cattle market situation will get better,” she says.

Trade deals would help, she says, and the industry will probably see some impact from people selling off cattle last summer due to the drought and forage shortage.

“They had to make a decision,” she says. “They had to do what they had to do. If you had 50 (head), you’re down to 32 or 35 now. They didn’t have any choice to do it. They did the right thing.”

A lot of producers also bought hay and corn silage that hadn’t been tested, which caused problems with cattle health and some death loss.

Cantrell says over the last 15 months, producers have been saving fewer heifers, which could provide opportunities.

“I have seen the heifers being sold increase dramatically,” she says. “People aren’t holding heifers back.”

Producers have to do what they can to get the most out of their calves, Cantrell says. For example, good groups of weaned calves that have had all their shots and vaccinations are selling better because buyers want to minimize risk.

Cantrell is up front with customers.

“I can’t make feed yards or order buyers like your cattle,” she says. “You’ve got to stay in touch with what feedlots and order buyers want.”

The odds

She is accustomed to obstacles, and she knows as a solo female operator of a sale barn, she is rare in this industry. Her husband, Dan, supports her endeavors, but the sale barn is all hers.

She says she has had to overcome the thinking that the cattle industry is only for men. People directed her to the “women’s lounge” area of sale barns. Some didn’t want to do business with her sale barn, or asked her male barn manager questions instead of her during farm visits.

“They have kicked my ass for 65 years, but they haven’t succeeded,” she says. “This is a male-dominated business.”

Cantrell overcame with persistence and tenacity, as well as being good at what she does. The sale barn’s charging bull logo is symbolic of her.

“I just kept going,” she says. “I don’t stop. I’m content with what I do.”

She also thinks about the women in agriculture who came before her. Her mom ran a large dairy business. She knows times have improved.

“I can’t even imagine the women in the 1800s, what that was like,” she says.

Cantrell knows several women in the area who run their own farms.

In contrast to those who didn’t want a woman in the industry, lots of men in her area do repeat business with her.

“Then I have my men that trust me explicitly,” she says.

They trust her to find cattle for them to buy, to figure out what is happening in the business. She says straight shooting is the key to success in her industry, and building relationships with customers.

“I’m a person that black is black and white is white,” Cantrell says.

She enjoys seeing multiple generations from family farms come to the sale barn together.

Cantrell is optimistic about the future. It looks like the area is going to grow a lot of grass and hay this year, and finalizing trade deals could give a big boost.

For now, she says the focus should be on rebuilding herds as much as people can.

“I think they should rebuild their cow herds,” Cantrell says. “I don’t care if they only have enough money to buy one or two, rebuild those herds. It’s going to come back, and I truly believe it’s going to be good.”

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.