Missouri Photo Workshop 70

Sale Barn

They used to farm in Mountain Grove, now they meditate, listening as the sound of truck tires whining down farm roads blends with the dull chomp of cattle grazing. They’re not pets and they’re sure as hell no career, but if they can just pay for themselves it’s all worth it. This is the Sale Barn.


The Missouri Photo Workshop has been going on for 70 years and has covered 50 small towns in Missouri. The workshop is an exercise in finding and covering a story that honestly communicates small-town Missouri, this year 39 photographers gathered in Mountain Grove to tell stories of the town.  I covered a livestock auction, or sale barn, that many farmers in the area sell their cattle at.  It’s an honor to be an alumnus of MPW alongside some of history’s greatest photojournalist. I failed a lot, was humbled and learned more than I could have imagined.


Buyers inspecting cattle before the auction begins.

Cattle are delivered and kept in pens behind the sales arena. On auction day farmers can bring in livestock as early as 7 a.m.

Mike Stafford, a Douglas County Livestock Auction sale barn employee, kills time while waiting to shuffle the next feeder cow from the sale pen to the new owner’s pen.

Remnants of a past sale’s smoke break. There are two sales each week: feeder cows, then cow and bull. There’s no time limit on each sale, so it will continue until the last animal goes onto the scale.

Mike Shannon carries an unweaned calf. “That one must have lost it’s mom”, a seller says as Mike and the calf goes by.

Three dimensional wall art is displayed on the sale arena walls. About 1200 cattle change hands each week at the Douglas County Livestock Auction, which holds a sale every Thursday, weather and holidays permitting.

Trey Dodson of Oklahoma calls auctions from Tuesday to Thursday. The Douglas County Auction is farther from his home than any other auction he calls.

A subtle tilt (nod) of the head or finger wag is all a buyer needs to place their bid. Rick Huffman, Market Reporter for the Missouri Department of Agriculture, records sales on his laptop. This week there were 1,393 receipts recorded.

“Post conspicuously near livestock scale,” says a Department of Agriculture document near the auctioneers booth at the Douglas County Livestock Auction. The sale barn has been under current ownership for over 14 years.

Derek McGill is one of the sale barn owners. A network of staff work behind the scenes to ensure that the cattle make it in front of buyers in the correct order.

The first step of the sale process involves a series of gates that guide cattle to their designated pens, where they wait to be auctioned off.

Below are some images that didn’t quite fit the photo story of the sale barn. They’re misfit images that I liked but maybe only work as a single image. 

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