The background shown here was created from a stack of paper forms that were used in 1964 to keep track of customers and their consignments. Thank you to Randy Carson and the Abilene Livestock Auction for sharing these pieces of their history.
Randy Carson loves the work they do with ranchers at the Abilene Livestock Auction and appreciates the clients who continue to support the business, one trailer-load at a time.
By Ellen H. Brisendine
Photos by Shawn McCoy and Scott Williamson
“I just flat love it. I’ve been thinking about retiring,” says Randy Carson, owner of the Abilene Livestock Auction, “but why quit something you love? There are no better people in the world as far as I’m concerned than cattle and horse people,” he says.
Randy Carson is one of those lucky folks who knew early in life what he wanted to do and has spent much of his life doing exactly that — helping ranchers and farmers sell their livestock through the auction market system.
Carson started working at the Abilene Livestock Auction in 1967 when he was in high school. The business was owned by Billy Clyde Haynes. Back then, he says, “every farmer had cattle. Their banker wanted three crops a year — a wheat crop, a cotton crop, and a calf crop. Trailer-loads of cattle are what built auction barns, the two, three, four, and five head that come in on the trailers. It was not the big truckloads.”
The same holds true today and he and his crew have developed services to help their clients.
Carson has owned the Abilene Livestock Auction since 1994 when he and John and Madison Michener purchased it. He says, “In 1967, I started out working on just the sale days. Then I got to working every day just as a feed hand, washing out the water troughs, cleaning the feed troughs, whatever needed to be done. Then I worked my way up to be the straw boss, then the yard foreman and then the general manager.”
Not long after Carson and his partners purchased the Abilene Livestock Auction, they bought Amarillo Livestock Auction and Bowie Livestock Auction.
None of those locations are considered close to one another and Carson found he was spending time on the road between the businesses instead of time on his favorite business. In 2000, he became the full owner of the Abilene Livestock Auction, selling his portions of the other two markets.
When Carson describes how Abilene is situated in Texas, one gets the impression that all roads lead to Abilene.
“Abilene, Texas, is located right on Interstate 20. We have Highways 83, 84, 36, FM 600, Highway 351 — these all come right into where we are. We draw cattle from a radius of about 150 miles of Abilene. We feel we’re in a very good location to receive cattle from any direction that you go,” he says.
“When I’m not here at the sale, I try to be out in the country. Every week, I try to go east, west, south, or north, just get out and visit clients,” Carson says.
Those clients rely on Carson for help and advice. For example, one of the most useful services the Abilene Livestock Auction provides is to accept cattle seven days a week. That may not be surprising to readers who are used to urban and suburban businesses, or online businesses that are always accessible, but in the auction market community, the ability to drop off a load of cattle on your day off, whether that day is during the week or on the weekend, is a tremendous help.
Sale day at the Abilene Livestock Auction is Tuesday, Carson says. Therefore, “we were here on Memorial Day because a lot of people were off and could work their calves and get them in. Labor Day, Memorial Day, all the Monday holidays, we’re here because we will have a sale the Tuesday after the holiday.”
Carson and his crew are prepared to help customers find help with transportation, too. “If the client needs help, we don’t pay for the trucking but we have a gentleman around here with gooseneck trailers and there is a trucking company right next to us. I can help line up the trailers, or the trucks, or whatever,” he explains.
Some of Carson’s customers rely on him for advice on producing better calves that will bring more dollars. While he will happily discuss herd health, he stays clear of herd genetics.
He chuckles when he remembers the advice from one of his mentors. “When I started to work here, Vernon Surratt told me, ‘Don’t get involved in politics or religion. Because everyone who walks through your door is either a Catholic, a Baptist, or a Methodist, or Church of Christ, or whatever. Stay out of that.’ It’s the same way with breeds of cattle. I have customers who think Angus is the way to go, or Brangus, or Red Angus, or Simmentals. I don’t interfere with any of that!”
Many of his customers bring fresh-weaned calves to the Abilene Livestock Auction. While Carson might wish those calves had been given more time at the ranch, he understands the limitations that herd owners face — time, the availability of help at the ranch, space on the ranch to pre-condition calves. He says not every cattle owner is equipped to do more than the basics of cow-calf production.
He does encourage ranchers to learn about the Beef Quality Assurance standards that are taught online and through Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) in cooperation with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and the Texas Beef Council. Through the Texas BQA program, cattle owners can learn about standard vaccinations, how to give a vaccination and other important and easy-to-implement cattle health management techniques.
If a customer has run their calves through a vaccination program, Carson wants to know so he can inform the buyers and work to get the best price for those calves. “Many of our customers don’t realize how much value they can put into cattle if you handle them right from birth, as far as vaccinations and weaning, before you market them. I like to know what vaccinations the calves have had and when they had them — at birth, at weaning, at branding, whenever. Not everybody can do this, but if you have had the calves weaned 45 days or longer, those calves will bring a little premium.”
State and national LMA leader
The Abilene Livestock Auction is a member of the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) and the Livestock Marketing Association of Texas (LMAT). Carson is a director and past president of LMAT. He has served as a judge in the World Livestock Auctioneering Championship, hosted by LMA, and has served on national LMA committees.
He and his colleagues are generous supporters of TSCRA. Scott Williamson, TSCRA executive director of law enforcement, brand and inspection services, worked nights at the Abilene Livestock Auction while attending college in Abilene. TSCRA Special Ranger Joe Roberts has a long relationship with Carson and the market, as does TSCRA Brand Inspector David Williams.
When it came time to develop and test new software for the brand inspection process, Williamson called on Williams to help field test the software, and one of the best “fields” in which to test it was the pens at the Abilene Livestock Auction.
Carson and his crew have graciously provided the software developers from Code Authority, in Frisco, and TSCRA staff with a close look at the inner workings of a busy auction market. His support will help the TSCRA brand inspectors do their work faster and better and will make the brand inspection information accessible to law enforcement much more quickly than it is now. The Cattleman will publish more details as this improved system is introduced into other Texas markets.
Friends, colleagues, and mentors
Carson says a sign in the main office at the Abilene Livestock Auction reads, “Do you want to speak to the owner or the woman who runs this thing?” That person is Shirley Whitaker, the office manager. “When I started to work here in 1967, she was already working here. She started in 1964. She and I have been a lot of miles down the road together,” Carson says.
Several of the crew at the Abilene Livestock Auction seem to have found a work home, putting in years and decades as part of the team. Over the years, Carson has had good advice from mentors. “It’s kind of funny. You get to thinking about all the old guys who were here forever and who taught me a lot of what I know. They are all gone and now I’m one of the old guys,” he laughs.
Back when the Abilene Livestock Auction was a fairly new sale barn, Carson’s friend Danny Malone introduced Carson to his father, Mark Malone. The elder Malone was the first yard foreman at the Abilene Livestock Auction and hired Carson. “Of course, there have been all sorts of people through here — Howard Goswick from Jayton, Texas, was instrumental in a lot of the things that I’ve done. Tom Neff and Waddell Strain bought this sale barn and I kept working for them.
“Vernon Surratt owned the other sale barn in Abilene when we had two sale barns in town.” Eventually, the second sale barn was closed, and Surratt went to work at the Abilene Livestock Auction. “He helped me tremendously. These men, Howard Goswick, Tom Neff, Waddell Strain, Vernon Surratt, and Mark Malone, all had a big influence on my upbringing.”
Carson remembers a meeting he attended in 1973 during the time Tom Neff and Waddell Strain owned the Abilene Livestock Auction. At that meeting, “They handed us a piece of paper with a question for us to answer. ‘What do you want to accomplish in your lifetime?’ I wrote down, ‘Own the Abilene Livestock Auction.’”
Considering the enjoyment and sense of satisfaction Carson gets from helping his customers in every way he can, it is no surprise he reached that goal, and it is no surprise that he continues his chosen work today.
Trailer-Load is excerpted from the July 2019 issue of The Cattleman magazine. Join today to start your subscription.
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