What do you think of when you think of Highland County?
Some of you may say an enthusiastic, “Maple!” And, while sugar-making is important to our little, mountain community, I always think of our wide-open spaces and mild climate – perfect for raising livestock.
Agriculture has always been an important piece of the fabric of our community, so it is no surprise that when an important Highland County agricultural fixture has recently been reopened after years sitting dormant, the community shows up.
The Market’s History
The market first opened around 1945 after members of the community recognized a need to sell livestock in Highland County.
This offered many advantages to local farmers and ranchers by providing a market close to home, allowing them to save money on labor and gain money by eliminating weight loss that would accompany a long drive to Staunton.
This was in the days prior to hauling livestock with a truck and trailer. Instead, most farmers and their families would push large groups of animals along the roadways and over the mountains, either on foot or horseback. As you can imagine, this was a long, daunting, and draining process that often took several days.
Farmers also hauled individual animals or small groups of three or four over the mountains using straight trucks – ton trucks, most commonly Chevrolets or Fords, with cattle racks on the back bed.
In its early days, our market was also famous for selling much more than traditional livestock. My grandfather, Bill Bratton, remembers buying a bicycle at the stock market for eight dollars. When he was much younger, six-years-old to be exact, he attended a sale with his grandfather and bought a shepherd puppy for 50 cents. This was a big purchase for such a little boy, so he borrowed the money from his grandfather.
While my grandfather enjoyed spending his grandaddy’s money, his favorite thing at the market was watching the auctioneer. In fact, watching auctioneers, such as H.H. Benny Terry and Andy Gutshall, inspired him to start auctioneering.
“I would go to the livestock market, and I was amazed by the auctioneer,” my grandad recalls. “I would go home and sit in the window and play auctioneer.”
Bill Wagner also found inspiration from Andy Gutshall, his grandfather, who auctioneered at the stockyard for over 30 years. Today, Bill is proud to be following in his grandfather’s footsteps as an auctioneer at Monterey Stockyard LLC.
They sold a wide variety of things at the market, everything from potatoes to canned meat. Even pet lambs, ponies, bikes, eggs, and dogs found their way to the auction block. It was an opportunity to bring in extra income for the family. If you planted your garden and had extra vegetables, there was no need to worry. You could bring baskets of them to the stock market to be sold. And, that little bit of extra money, helped families survive Highland County winters.
In days gone by, auctions were a big deal. Not only did they boost the local economy, but sales acted as a major social event. Families could come and be served a good, hot meal by Mrs. Icie Chestnut, who cooked in the market’s kitchen in the 1950s. To this day, people still rave over her mouthwatering pies. Butterscotch was a favorite! Folks would visit, catch-up, and come together as a community.
The Grand Re-Opening
On March 3, 2021, Monterey Stockyard LLC reopened under a new name and new ownership. Now owned and operated by Barry Wilkins Jr., the stockyard has been buzzing with energy since the purchase and renovation by the Wilkins family.
The market was formerly owned by Sherry Sullenberger, a local legend not only for being a cattle rancher and business woman, but for making history as the first licensed female auctioneer in Virginia.
Wilkins has been a livestock broker for more than 20 years and half-owner in Double J Livestock for 12 years. He and his father purchased a hunting camp in Mill Gap last year, and he’s had his eye on the market ever since. Wilkins wanted to revitalize the sales barn and make it a community asset, so farmers would not have to travel over the mountains to sell their livestock.
So Why is This Important?
Let’s face it, being a farmer or rancher is hard. Between the long hours, low pay, little thanks, and recent legislation trying to end vital parts of animal husbandry, it is hard not to feel deflated. However, farmers and ranchers have always been a resilient breed turning what little they have into something extraordinary.
The market’s reopening also gives our farmers an advantage by having a place close by to sell livestock. This eliminates having to wait in long lines all day over the mountains as well as cutting down on gas expenses and wear-and-tear to equipment.
By having access to a wider market, close to home, Highland’s farmers and ranchers will be better able to live the life they love and keep some money in their pocket. Moreover, being able to sell within the county will ensure more money stays local bringing significant economic benefits to Highland’s agricultural industry as well as the entire county.
How Can I Help?
One of the biggest ways to support this new business is to attend a sale and buy livestock! Not only do you benefit the market, but you also help the local farmer you purchased from.
If you are looking for a way to support without taking home a 1,000-pound animal, consider stopping by for a bite to eat. Delicious meals are prepared during every sale by Barry’s mother.
And, let’s not forget the most powerful marketing tool ever – word of mouth. Share promotional posts from Monterey Stockyard LLC’s Facebook page. This is an easy and free way to show your support and promote the stockyard.
Sales will take place on the first and third Wednesdays of each month.
In the end, a win for a local business is a win for us all. And remember – No farmers, no food.
In the words of my grandfather, Bill Bratton, “Eat beef!”
About the Author
Carly Thomas, a 2022 graduate of Highland High School, resides in the southern portion of Highland County. Growing up as the seventh generation to live on her family’s cattle ranch, Carly learned the importance of family, faith, and devotion to the land. She is passionate about FFA, agriculture, and supporting Highland County farmers. Carly enjoys being challenged and works in a variety of jobs from writing sports articles for her local newspaper to cooking at a local sandwich shop. She can often be found working on the ranch, riding horses with her father, or working on the next FFA activity.