by KEN BECK
Special to the Southern Standard (McMinnville, Tennessee)
Wayne Barnes has got just about everybody’s goat in Middle Tennessee. Or maybe it just seems that way on Fridays and Saturdays.
For the past 23 years, he and wife Abbie have operated O’Possum Hollow Livestock, which may be the largest lamb and goat barn and shipping operation in the Southeast.
A DeKalb County native, Barnes, 55, runs his business about halfway between McMinnville and Smithville on 250 acres just inside Warren County, where he has two massive barns, one that measures 12,000 square feet and can hold 2,000 head of goats and lambs, and a second that is 24,500 square feet and holds 3,300.
He purchases the grass grazers from 8 a.m. to noon Fridays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays with sellers coming from Kentucky, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee, with a goodly spell trucking their livestock in from Warren, Cannon, DeKalb, Wilson, Smith, Overton, Lincoln, Coffee and Sequatchie counties.
“It’s busy here on Saturdays. Sometimes the trucks are lined up a half mile down the road. You bring ’em in, and we load ’em out, sort ’em, grade ’em and weigh ’em and write you a check on the spot,” said Barnes, who generally has the help or four or five farm hands in the barn where heaviest days. The work doesn’t stop after the sellers have come and gone and the creatures have been placed in the holding pens.
Barnes is ably assisted by Abbie, who runs the office, assistant Shelby Fox and farm manager Jeff Williams. Like many farmers and ranchers, Barnes’ affinity for what he does was passed down by his father. He was hooked at a young age.
“When I was a kid I always liked goats. Years ago most farmers kept a goat tied up on a fence row so they would eat the grass. I got attached to them and at 12 years old was already trading of the DeKalb County High School chapter of Future Farmers of America.
“When I graduated in 1984, I had already worked at all the local sale barns preparing for further down the road for a living, and I kept fooling with goats,” said Barnes. “At the time every county had a sale barn: Sparta, Cookeville, Manchester, Murfreesboro, McMinnville, Alexandria, Lebanon and Carthage.
“So we bought this place with 28 acres in ’92. We put a trailer on it. … So what really got me serious was after I bought a set of goats at Manchester for $20 each. I put ’em out two or three being a buyer because I got mad and started buying every week,” he said.
A few years later, Wayne’s father retired, and so
Wayne discussed the idea of building a livestock complex with his folks. In 1998, his father built the first barn, which holds 17 stalls and measures 144x84. All the lumber used in the construction of the barn came from trees they cut on their acreage.
“We started in February 1999. It was a tough go for a couple of years. Everything had got bigger. I got to spreading out and got buyers out of state. And business kept getting bigger. Before Daddy died in 2003, we The most we had was 3,500 head,” said Barnes, who in mid-April had between 600 and 700 goats and sheep in his second barn, which is 120x204 and has 20 outdoor pens and was built by his stepfather, Glenn Baker.
Barnes noted, “Sales are very seasonal. In fall and spring, lambs sell better than the goats. Today it’s primarily the ethnic market buying year round. Goats are bestselling when they weigh 50 to 60 pounds. Lambs sell best at 60 to 70 pounds. The majority of mine go directly to the slaughter house.”
He added, “When you get my price, you’ll also get my advice. I try to educate my customers. When I started out, I had nobody on my side and I fought and fought. Now I try to help others. If you helped keep me in business I’m going to help you in your business. I try to support my local farmers and producers.”
Wayne and Abbie enjoy feasting on the fruits of their labors.
“I like lamb but I like goat better. We kill both to eat. Goat meat is similar to beef and not like deer,” said Barnes.
Asked what the difference was in personality between goats and sheep, he answered, “Goats are mischievous and rambunctious, and sheep are tamer and easier to handle.”