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Livestock market operators building relationships

By JANE W. GRAHAM
AFP Correspondent

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (May 16, 2016) — A new old business in the livestock industry here is open for business with a new generation of the family that owns it working to build relationships and help farmers sell their animals.
The Christiansburg Livestock Market, held its first sale under the direction of three grandsons of the late Joe Stewart on Feb. 1.
Stewart was a legend in the Virginia cattle industry, running livestock auction markets in both Christiansburg and Roanoke.
He became a partner in the Christiansburg market in 1947 and full owner in 1962.
Stiles Milton, 23, talked last week about what he, his 30-year-old brother Zach, and his 33-year-old cousin Brennan Stewart want to do with the market.
The young men took over the livestock market this year when their family’s lease with Phillip and Lori Nolen who had operated the business for the past decade was not renewed.
Stiles’ and Zach’s mother, Julia Milton, had run the market for her father as he aged and her sons grew up in the livestock market, Stiles said.
He told of pictures of them as infants sleeping in the office and as children roaming around the facility.
Operating the livestock market has always been his dream, Stiles said.
He said the 2 p.m. Wednesday sales are attracting livestock producers and buyers from as close as two miles away and as far away as North Carolina and West Virginia.
The farming community is very supportive for the new venture, which the three men believe is providing a needed service to the industry. Stiles said they will sell anything with four feet. 
A few minutes spent in the sale area and office proved those attending were pleased with the sale in progress, the opportunity to meet the new owners and the chance, especially for the older farmers, to recall the past when sale day at the Christiansburg Livestock Market was a big day.
One man recalled the market in its heyday, with trucks and trailers lined up down the roadway waiting to unload.
“It’s as much a service as it is a business,” Stiles said of the current operation.
Stiles said it has taken a while to get people back who had gotten out of the habit of using the market to buy or sell. He said they are working to build trust between themselves, the buyers and the sellers.
He added he’s been pleased with the quality of buyers that have come to the market since it has opened as well as with the quality of animals being offered for sale.
Although the market has a nostalgic relationship with many more mature farmers, Stiles said many younger farmers are bringing their animals to the auction.
He said one 20-year-old recently brought two loads, totaling 34 head, to a weekly sale.
He said he sees it as a good thing that in an industry where the average age of the farmer is 60 that young people are coming into it.
Part of the operators’ time is spent helping their clients develop their animals and make management decisions, he said. He said customers will ask their advice on how to manage their cattle and other livestock, when to sell, what to graze and whether to calf in fall or spring, among other things.
As well as running the livestock market, each of the operators also are farmers.
It’s all part of building relationships, Stiles said, which they hope will in turn help them build their business.
In addition to the main weekly sales, the family has had a slaughter cattle sale and is planning a feeder cattle sale. Stiles said they hope in time to hold state graded feeder cattle sales.