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Dr. Hollis Smith opened Sho-Me Feeder Pigs, Inc. in 1970 one mile south of Ava where Lakey’s Hay Barn is currently located.The first sale was held Oct. 20, 1970.
The date was important to Smith because his father’s 60th birthday was that same day.
“We sold 60 pigs in that first draft in the barn,” Smith said.
Smith and his crew built the auction barn from scratch. The company had two locations – Ava and Thayer.
“Our peak year was 1979,” Smith said. “We sold 238,000 pigs that year.”
There was a high demand for feeder pigs from the corn belt.
“They couldn’t raise them easily in that area,” Smith said. “Pig production is very labor intensive, and we had the perfect environment here.”
What’s the perfect environment for raising pigs?
“A south hillside and clean ground,” Smith said.
Smith said there are definite differences to raising pigs and cattle.
“With pigs, you’re selling your labor,” he said. “With cows, you’re selling your grass.”
The feeder pig sale at Ava was every Tuesday, while the sale was at Thayer on Wednesday.
“I went to every sale,” Smith said. “I’d go to the Ava sale on Tuesday, work cattle Tuesday night, then get up and go to the Thayer sale on Wednesday.
“It was a rough life.”
There were two months in the year that there weren’t many pigs to be sold, and those were February and August.
“Pigs were sold at around eight weeks old, and breeders didn’t breed them to be born when it was really hot or really cold.”
Smith would always take his vacation during the month of August.
“And in February, we always hoped for snow,” he said with a smile.
BJ Evans did many of the auctions, but when the business first started, Buster Singleton was the auctioneer.
The building itself had a neat feature, Smith said.
“The counter was the counter from the old Citizen’s bank, which was located where Wade Law Firm is now,” he said. “I was glad to get it.
“It was perfect for our use and had the nostalgic factor.”
Around 200 or 300 pigs would come into the barn the night before the auction, but “the bulk was brought in the day of,” Smith said.
The pigs were vaccinated, tagged, weighed and sorted into groups by weight.
The pigs were sold by those groups, and each owner got a portion of the proceeds based on how many of his or her pigs were in that group.
“They were usually grouped within 5 pounds of the same weight,” Smith said. “As they got bigger, however, the groups spanned a bigger range.”
The barn was the first in the nation to completely computerize a graded pig sale.
“When the sale was over, by the time they could get to the counter, their check was ready.”
Over half of the pigs sold in Ava were from Arkansas, while two-thirds of the pigs in Thayer were from our southern neighbor.
Northern Arkansas didn’t have a viable pig market, so most pig farmers brought their livestock to Missouri to be sold.
“We also had some Amish people bring pigs up from Seymour,” Smith noted.
Over half the pigs sold were sold over the phone, sight unseen.
On the barn’s biggest sales day, over 4100 pigs were sold.
Smith was born in the east end of Douglas County.
“When my parents were young, there were more people in the east end of the county than around Ava,” he said.
The family moved to Ava when Hollis’ father was elected county clerk.
Smith attended Ava High before going to the University of Missouri at Columbia.
The business closed for conventional sales in 1990.
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