Animal Instincts

Tri-County Livestock Exchange
marking 19 years at
Smithfield, Ky., location

Congletons’ auction barn attracts buyers,
sellers from the region

SMITHFIELD, Ky. (December 2013) – Thirty years ago, Larry Congleton worked for Bourbon Stockyards in Louisville. Little did he know that one day he would run his own auction barn business – Tri-County Livestock Exchange Inc., located near Lake Jericho in Smithfield, Ky.
“I’ve been at this location for 19 years,” said Congleton.
The business was originally started by Ron Graves, who sold it because of health reasons. Congleton’s son, Tim, and wife, Cheryl, help run the stockyards.

Larry & Cheryl Congleton

Photo by Darrel Taylor

Cheryl and Larry Congleton pose outside their Tri-County Livestock Exchange.

Congleton auctions all kinds of animals on Monday nights, including cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, chickens and even rabbits. It is quite a sight to see the various animals held in cages by their owners sitting around the parking lot prior to a Monday night sale.
Congleton sells horses at auction on the first Wednesday of every month. “At 7 p.m. we sell tack, halters and related horse items; horses sell at 9 p.m. We have all breeds,” he said.
Buyers come from seven surrounding counties and southern Indiana to the Monday night sales. “We get top prices on our cattle and livestock,” Congleton said. “We receive livestock all day long on Mondays, with the auction starting at 7 p.m.”
Before any sales begin, cattle are sorted according to size, sex and weight. Running the stockyards is “all we do,” said Congleton. For that reason, “We think we do a very good job.”
There is not enough demand in the area to sell more than one day a week, he said. Years ago, the stockyards in Louisville was opened six days a week, but not anymore. Because other stockyards sell other days of the week, Congleton sticks to Monday night sales and the first Wednesday of the month.
Congleton also farms, and raises beef cattle, averaging around 100 head. He lives on his family’s Campbellsburg farm, a 200-acre tract that has been in his family since 1958 and was run by his parents, Thomas and Georgia Congleton. He said he used to raise tobacco but now mainly raises hay for a cash crop.
Although he gets a lot of new customers, Congleton said he also has many repeat customers. “Repeat customers mean everything to us.”

Auction Barn

Photos by Don Ward

Tri-County Livestock Ex-change (above) holds weekly auctions on Monday nights in Smithfield, Ky., where cattle and all sort of other animals are auctioned, including goats (below), rabbits and chickens. The primary auction item, however, is cattle from the region


One of those repeat customers is Bedford, Ky., farmer Jerry Oak. He said he will attend sales at Tri-County Livestock Exchange “from time to time, especially if I know whose farm the cattle came off of.” Like many farmers, Oak is interested in the quality of the livestock.
“Sometimes it’s excellent; sometimes it’s not real good. Sometimes big groups will come through and sometimes singles,” he said. “It all depends on the size of the farm and if they are full-time or part-time farmers.”
Ideally, it’s better to sell cattle at the same age, weight and quality, said Oak. Buyers want to buy large numbers to ship out West on semi trucks, he said. “Very few stay in Kentucky.”
Oak has patronized Tri-County Livestock Exchange since 1974. When it first opened, the livestock auction business was a small stockyard located in Sligo, also in Henry County. At that time, it was primarily a “baby calf market, with a few pigs and a sheep or two,” said Oak.
Realizing he needed a larger facility, Graves relocated the business to its current location, just a few miles south of I-71 from the Sligo-Pendleton exit. Graves was also a licensed auctioneer. He sold the business to Congleton, who has had different business partners over the years. He now relies solely on family to help him run the business.
The current auctioneer is Ricky Timberlake. Oak labeled him as “colorful. He likes to joke around with the crowd.”
Oak said, “All of the help there is really friendly. All are local people.”
That may be one of the big draws to the business. Oak said that “half of the crowd goes to visit friends and acquaintances.” To Oak and many like him, “it’s entertainment. You can talk farming and see people you know.”
When it comes down to the actual sales, Oak said that sometimes cattle don’t sell for what you think they should. Many times, people like buying cows that are already bred. They seem to sell better here than most places.”
Congleton said that currently “cattle prices are super high. Farmers are making good money. Cattle numbers are at their lowest since the 1950s and the demand is up.” But he laments that “the number of farmers are getting shorter everyday.”

Throughout the years, Oak has hauled cattle to the stockyards many times for other people. “The stockyard is unique in many ways,” he said.

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