Rural Missouri Magazine

Taking the bull
by the horns
Stockyard owner Wendy Cantrell's
can-do attitude takes her to new levels
in the male-dominated world of cattle buyers

by Heather Berry

It’s 10 a.m. and Wendy Cantrell is just sitting down for breakfast in the Cattlemen’s Choice Café across the hall from her office. She lights a cigarette, places two phones on the table and orders. One phone rings and a minute later a call comes in on the second phone. As she hangs up, someone runs in with another phone — and another call for Wendy.

Wendy Cantrell, owner of Miller County Regional Stockyards in Eldon, conducts a lot of her business over the phone. Her barn’s motto, “We take the bull out of selling cattle” reinforces her no-nonsense way of doing business.

“This is how much of my business is done,” she says, nodding toward the growing pile of phones. “People call me and I get to spend their money. I get to do that because they trust my judgment.”

Wendy is a licensed, bonded livestock order-buyer. Her job is to take orders for cattle, scour the country for quality livestock to fill the orders and buy them on behalf of clients.
According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Wendy is one of only a handful of women in the state who own their own sale barn.

While the cattle industry used to be exclusively a man’s world, women are now running farms and getting a handle on the new technologies that make the job easier. According to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, women run one in every 10 farms in America.

“Women are losing their husbands, either by death or divorce, and choosing to take over the farms,” Wendy says. “But they need help. One of my goals is to help them any way I can.”

Wendy’s husband, Dan, says she often gets calls from women who find themselves with a cattle operation and aren’t sure what to do with it. So she’ll go to their farm to offer any help she can.

While the sale barn is solely Wendy’s business, her husband, Dan, comes in to lend a hand when there’s a big auction scheduled. When he’s not in Eldon, Dan runs the couples 4,200 acre, 600-cow/calf operation in Republic. The ranch prepares calves for feedyards across the United States.

“That’s just the way Wendy is,” says Dan. “She wants everyone to succeed.”
Her can-do attitude has helped her carve a niche in a business that’s been predominately a man’s world for decades.

Wendy shakes her head. “A lot of times I’d come home bawling and squalling to Dan because the men would always point me toward the women’s lounge whenever I walked into a sale barn,” she says.

“But I hung in there. I’d be sitting there, smiling and listening to their ‘oh honey’ this-and-that while I was buying the cattle they wanted. Finally, the guys decided I must be there for the long haul and they accepted me, but it took about a decade.”

The stockyard’s logo, a little snorting black bull, represents Wendy’s determination. Her barn’s motto, “We take the bull out of selling cattle,” reinforces Wendy’s no-nonsense business approach.

A Mennonite boy catches a rare glimpse of television in the Cattle-man’s Choice Café as he patiently waits in line.

“Down home they call me a ‘little bulldozer’ because I’m headstrong and I don’t take no for an answer,” she says, smiling.

Wendy, 51, has been wheeling and dealing in the cattle industry since she was a youngster in southwest Missouri. As one of nine children growing up in rural Buffalo, Wendy feels as if she practically grew up in sale barns while helping her dad with his import/export Holstein cattle business.

She recalls riding wild ponies as a youngster at the sale barns for potential buyers, to see if the ponies were broke to ride. According to Wendy, nothing could buck her off.
Wendy’s dad passed away when she was 11, leaving the tomboy on her own to finish learning the cattle business. By age 16, some of her dad’s cattle buddies decided to take the time to show her the ropes.

After buying cattle in central Missouri nearly all her life, Wendy felt the area could use a new sale barn. So last January, she bought a defunct elk barn and 60 acres of land near Eldon and launched Miller County Regional Stockyards.

The stockyard held its first sale in May, drawing 850 cows and calves for sale. Nearly 200 buyers and sellers sat in the auction arena’s comfortable theater seats to watch a seven-hour sale. While she won’t reveal numbers, Wendy says the first sale was a huge success.

Since then, Miller County Regional Stockyards has been host to sales every Monday. Special cattle auctions are also held during the week if there’s a need for one.

Cattle arriving at Miller County Regional Stockyards are always checked by a veterinarian who also offers additional services for the cattle at the buyer or seller’s request.

A few weeks ago, Wendy held a special feeder-calf sale that brought tremendous prices.
“The cattle brought a higher price per pound that day than prices in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Joplin and Springfield,” says Dan. “She had 15 out-of-state buyers for that sale, too. And it’s because she had not just quantity, but quality calves for sale.”

Wendy also offers horse auctions. “It’s what the people around here want, so we’re offering it.”

When Dan isn’t helping with sales in Eldon, he runs the couple’s 4,200-acre, 600-cattle operation in Republic. Here, the couple prepares calves for feedyards across the United States.

Wendy says Dan has always been supportive of her dream to build a sale barn of her own because he knows Wendy’s good at what she does. More importantly, the barn offers Wendy a solid business for her future.

“Dan’s got a brain tumor,” Wendy says somberly. “After one surgery, we’ve decided to take life one day at a time and live it to the fullest.”

Duane Pemberton from Richland Livestock asks Wendy a question before he gets his auction number. Buyers have the option to receive a permanent auction ID if they wish.

Smart real estate deals, wise investments and good luck have allowed Wendy to build her nearly $4-million stockyard. From the onset, Wendy envisioned offering new technology and up-to-date information to cattle producers. Wendy offered source verification to her clients from the start. This technology allows buyers and sellers to track livestock through a national database. Anticipating the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan to implement an electronic identification system one day, Wendy offers this service to everyone.

“By source-verifying cattle, we’re able to find out if the cattle were home raised, what their history of vaccinations is and more,” says the Three Rivers Electric Cooperative member, “which in turn brings the seller more money.”

Long hours and “eight-day work weeks,” as she puts it helps keep Wendy at the forefront of her industry.

“I don’t believe in failure,” she says. “You have to work hard, hustle and just make it happen.”

Miller County Regional Stockyards holds cattle sales every Monday at 10 a.m. except on holidays. Horse and tack consignment sales are held one Friday each month. For more information, call (573) 392-5572 or (573) 286-1286.

Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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