New owners for livestock auction in Darlington

Donnie Poplin auctions cattle for the first sale at his new business, Low Country Livestock Auction, LLC in Darlington on Thursday, January 8, 2015. photos by Jana E. Pye

Donnie Poplin auctions cattle for the first sale at his new business, Low Country Livestock Auction, LLC in Darlington on Thursday, January 8, 2015.
photos by Jana E. Pye

By Jana E. Pye, Editor,

Goats, cattle, and hogs…oh, my!

The Low Country Livestock Exchange, LLC opened for their first sale last Thursday, January 8th. The last sale was before Christmas for the previous owners, formerly Darlington Livestock Market.

Commissioner of the S.C. Department of Agriculture, Hugh Weathers, welcomed the farmers and gave his congratulations to the new owners.

Weathers, who grew up with cattle, stayed on to see how the auction was going.

“We’ve seen an increase in prices for cattle here in South Carolina because of the drought in the Midwest and California,” said Weathers. “It’s good for those selling, but not the ones purchasing.”

Weathers said that the new initiatives for S.C, Certified grown produce are also on tap for livestock farmers.
“We are seeing an increase in people wanting to know where their food comes from, and that is good for our farmers and our economy,” said Weathers. “We are working hard on initiatives to help our farmers and encourage people when they are shopping to seek out food that is labeled as being South Carolina Certified.”

Owner Donnie Poplin is a long time auctioneer; his son, Dustin Poplin, is also an auctioneer. The pair, along with their good friend Clay Hamrick and a team of hardworking folks, spent the past few weeks cleaning, painting and renovating between the last auction under the former owners and their first official sale.

Jan Jackson, who is helping with the front desk, said that these are the kind of folks that do things with a handshake and the kind of men that are the salt of the earth.

“I am a cosmetologist by trade,” said Johnson. “My husband Johnnie worked for a county offices doing IT, and was asked by a friend of ours to write a software program for her stock yard. Now, we have our own software company, Market Systems, and we’ve done the systems for stockyards in 13 different states. I sat in and watched auctions to help him know what to input. And, I was hooked! I have really fallen in love with the farmers, the hard working people that raise cattle and other livestock. It’s hard, honest work and I’m thankful God put this in our path. We’ve really enjoyed this new phase in our life and are happy for Donnie that he has a chance to have his own place.”

A tour of the facility the day before the auction by Clay Hamrick revealed an area that was impeccably clean, withfresh bedding put down in each stall. New areas were built to hold more cattle, and a brand new “drive through” chute was constructed to replace the old chute that was difficult for many farmers to back their truck up when unloading their animals.

Billy Hendrickson was around when the market was first built over 25 years ago.

“It was out in Milling Pond years ago,” said Hendrickson. “I’ve been coming around ever since. It sure looks good today.”

Charles Gardner of McBee will be helping with hogs, as he has for years.

He has some at his home that he sells from time to time, and is an expert at the breed.

“They’ll do a good job here,” said Gardner. “They know what they are doing.”

Hamrick showed me where the goats, cattle and hogs are placed. Some farmers opt to bring their livestock over the day before the sale; they are given food and water at no charge.

The smaller goats are grouped together. According to Jackson, the sale will start with goats, as the tiny ones tend to get loose easy and can be trampled.

“They are cute, but they are fast!” she said.

The auction will no longer take smaller animals such as rabbits and poultry.

“This will be better on the larger cattle farners who prefer not to sit through long hours of chicken sales,” said Jackson.

The Poplin’s may decide to hold a separate auction day of the week for those animals but that has not been confirmed as of yet, just a hope by the farmers that trade them.

The auction began after a welcome by the Commissioner of the S.C. Department of Agriculture Hugh Weathers.
The auction itself was a finely choreographed operation. The goats were first. Farmers sat in folding chairs placed around a graduated cement semi-circle stadium style arena facing the center pen, which is also a scale. The auctioneers sit at an open window facing the farmers; the center area has wooden gates at both sides, with Clay Hamrick at the front left side, and Department of Agriculture Commission Benji Andrew at the far right.
The first animals to be auctioned were goats, which were placed into a holding area at near the left gate, and ushered in singly by Hamrick to the center. To insure they move about and turn for viewing, they were lightly tapped with a long plastic pole with a flap attached- but there was no need, for the goats were full of vim and vigor and pranced about in the cold arena.

Donnie Poplin is a consummate auctioneer and has been doing the circuit for many years. He let his son, Dustin, begin the auction- who has the gift of the silver tongue of fast speech as his father. Donnie did the cattle.

A tiny baby goat was brought out in a small wooden crate, and lifted up for a photo. He fetched $35.

The cattle were harder to corral.

Many were scared and backed into the pen. Some were downright indignant and huffed, stomped, and bucked while in the center arena. Those that refused to turn were given a firmer tap on the rear end, which didn’t impress the cattle one bit.

After being called and sold, the animal was ushered out the opposite side, with Hamrick or Andrew opening the respective side and standing clear behind the safety of the gate as the animal moved out the other side for handlers to properly get them to the buyer’s trailer.

The range went by weight, with one steer brought over one thousand dollars- $3.20 a pound.

For hogs, only four young pigs were brought in; larger hogs (up to 600 lbs+) were auctioned.

As this was the first auction and on such a cold day, farmers made their way up to the office to get warmed up, and have coffee and eat a lunch set out for them.

The camaraderie was friendly, just as auctions have been or decades. For many, it’s a chance to see old friends, and share stories away from their farms where they put in more hours than other professions.

A few dogs scampered underfoot, and the thud of boots across the floor did little to drown the sound of the auction and the bellowing of cattle behind the office doors.

The old-timers of the sale found the changes welcome, but it will take some getting used to.

Mendel Johnson drove over from Jefferson just to observe.

“The prices were good,” said Johnson. “But it’ll take a while to get used to their style.” He said with a laugh, and shook his head. “We were pretty used to the old auctioneer’s voice- I could understand the Daddy, but his son? Well, he was a little fast.”

Local farmers Houston Johnson and Kevin Alford, both of Darlington, also came by to look. “The prices were good and high, I would have sold some today,” said Johnson. “It looks good.”

Both men said that farming in Darlington County is “off a little bit,” but that a lot of people are getting back into livestock. “You see a lot of folks raising chickens for the eggs, and to eat, and raising hogs,” said Johnson. “It’s good to raise your own food.”

The Low Country Livestock Exchange sale is 11:00 a.m. each Thursday at 1989 Harry Byrd Hwy, Darlington. Phone: 843-393-4433.
See slideshow of photos taken at the auction below.
Mobile and tablet users, please click the link to view the gallery: Livestock Auction in Darlington

Author: Jana Pye

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