Real People. Stihl People.

Rural Missouri Magazine

Macon's Wild Kingdom
From Angus to zebra, Lolli Brothers Livestock Market
auctions creatures great and small

by Jason Jenkins

A two-year-old male giraffe stole the spotlight at the Lolli Brothers' Spring Exotic Animal Sale.

The auction block usually provides the best vantage point for conducting a livestock sale, but that’s not always the case at Lolli Brothers Livestock Market in Macon.

“I can’t see my bidders,” says auctioneer Tim Lolli with a chuckle, stopping his call and craning his neck to see around the four camels that stand in the sale ring between him and the crowd of more than 250. “Don’t worry. If that camel goes left, I’ll go right; if that camel goes right, I’ll go left.”

The willingness to work with a menagerie, no matter the immediate obstacle, is why Tim, Frankie, Dominic and Jim Lolli have become national leaders in the exotic animal industry. During the past 30 years, the brothers, all members of Macon Electric Cooperative, have built a reputation with buyers and consignors alike, creating one of the largest exotic sales in the United States.

If it creeps, crawls, runs, jumps, swims, flies, slithers or slides, there’s a good chance it’s been sold at Lolli Brothers.

“We have people that come from all over the country, from California to Florida to New York,” says Jim. “We attract individual breeders, ranchers, people from small zoos, petting zoos and drive-through parks.”

In Missouri, only the St. Louis Zoo can rival the diversity of animals found at Lolli Brothers during the auction house’s four exotic sales each year.

On nearly every Tuesday at 11 a.m., you’ll find cattle offered at auction in the sale ring at Lolli Brothers Livestock Market in Macon. In addition to regular cattle sales, the sale barn also holds special sales for calves, yearlings and breeding bulls.

An auction brochure reads like the manifest for Noah’s Ark: deer, elk, camels, zebras, wildebeest, Cape buffalo, giraffes, porcupines, otters, badgers, parrots, macaws, llamas, ostriches, tortoises, miniature horses and donkeys, wallabies, kangaroos, pythons, alligators, chameleons, swans, ducks, yaks.

“It’s really livestock, it’s just a different breed of livestock,” says Dominic, who along with Tim, shoulders auctioneering duties at the sale barn.

While exotics may be just another breed of livestock, they are high-dollar purchases. A female dromedary camel can cost from $5,000 to $8,000; a male zebra from $3,000 to $4,000. At the spring sale in April, the asking price for a female bottle baby giraffe was $60,000.

Though things may get a bit wild at the barn four weeks of the year, traditional livestock sales dominate the Lolli Brothers schedule and remain the foundation of the business.
Since the summer of 1947, when patriarch Frank Lolli first opened the family sale barn, cattle and horse producers across north Missouri have brought their livestock to Macon. According to Jim, Lolli Brothers is the oldest family-operated livestock auction in the Show-Me State.

Originally a musician, Frank’s career in the auction business began at the most unlikely of places — a community pie supper. Though he was only scheduled to be the evening’s entertainment, Frank assumed the task of selling the pies when the regular auctioneer failed to arrive.

The evening proved to be a turning point. Frank taught himself the auctioneering trade and began selling livestock around Macon. After serving in the Army, he constructed the sale barn that stands today, though it’s been expanded several times.

Sitting in the auction block, Dominic Lolli acknowledges a bid from a prospective buyer during a cattle auction. Dominic handles the majority of the auctioneering duties, though brothers Tim and Jim also are versed in the skill.

“We still do things just like Dad used to on Tuesdays,” says Jim, the oldest brother. “We start by auctioning off fence posts and hay outside around 10 a.m., then come inside and start the cattle sale around 11 a.m. They’re our bread and butter.”

Depending on the time of year and type of sale, 1,500 to 2,500 head of cattle will be sold in the barn each week. Most of these animals are consignments from local cow/calf operators.

The sale barn’s past and current success can be attributed to the Lolli family’s willingness to be versatile and take advantage of livestock trends.

In the 1950s, Frank Lolli recognized the growing popularity of Shetland ponies, starting his own pony sale that gained international prominence, selling 10 ponies to the British Royal Family.

Over the years, the Lolli brothers have held other special sales as tastes changed from ponies to Arabian horses. Today, Arabians have given way to quarter horses.

In addition to live animals, the brothers have diversified to include other niche markets. Twice a year, they hold the Old West Show and Auction, where they sell Western memorabilia and artifacts, antique sporting goods and guns. Each spring they hold a farm machinery sale, and with every exotic sale, they also hold a two-day taxidermy sale.

“When we started it in the 1980s, it was just something to pass time when we had the exotic sales,” Jim says. “Now, it’s turned into a sale of itself. We’re probably the only big auction house that has a taxidermy auction.”

Hundreds of taxidermy mounts, hides and horns representing animals from around the world fill two large buildings at the Lolli complex. Buyers include private collectors, sporting goods stores including Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, and interior decorators.

The Lolli home was across the highway from the sale barn, and all four boys grew up helping their father. Jim recalls being about 6 years old, riding a white goat high in the bleachers during a sale, only to receive a gentle scolding from his father for taking attention away from the sale ring.

Lolli Brothers’ April taxidermy sale featured many African full-body and shoulder mounts.

Dave Winkler, a Callaway County crop and livestock producer, came to his first cattle sale at Lolli’s sale barn in 1966. He says the four brothers have a good reputation in the cattle business and beyond. He remembers the brothers’ antics as young boys.

“Them little devils weren’t afraid of nothing,” says Winkler, a member of Callaway Electric Cooperative. “They’d run through horses’ legs and climb on the gates and fences. It was worth coming up just to see those kids.”

During high school, the boys were excused from school on Tuesdays to help with the cattle auction. Of the four, Frankie was the only brother not to learn the auctioneering trade.

“I said three of them is enough,” he recalls. “I’m not going to try and fight in after them. I’ll do something else. So I took charge of running everything behind the scenes.”

Don Osborne, an exotic animal breeder from Mount Pleasant, Texas, has been coming to the Lolli brothers’ exotic sale for more than 25 years. He and his wife, veterinarian Cathy Cranmore, raise a number of different species, including camels, zebras and miniature donkeys and horses.

“It’s by far the largest and most well-known sale in the Midwest,” says Osborne, who tries to make three of the four annual exotic sales in Macon each year. “They take good care of your animals and they work to get sellers the best price they can.”

For the Lolli brothers, the sale barn is home, whether they’re auctioning cattle, horses — or zebras. From left are Frankie, Jim, Tim and Dominic.

That commitment to the customer is a facet of not only the exotic sales, but of all sales at Lolli Brothers. It was a principle Frank Lolli instilled from the sale barn’s first days.

“When you have the microphone, you’re working with people’s livelihood that they worked all year long to get, and they put it in your hands,” Dominic says. “When I was young, I learned that no matter what it took to get the most money for livestock, I just strived to do the best I could for who I was working for. I fought for every dollar. Dad was the same way. He’d work for every nickel he could get for the farmer.”

Lolli Brothers’ remaining 2008 exotic livestock sales will be held July 10-12, Sept. 24-27 and Dec. 11-13. Daily admission charge is $5 per person. For more details, visit www.lollibros.com, or call 660-385-2516.

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Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives

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