The Hammen and Keeling families took over Four State Stockyards in 2019
On sale days at Four State Stockyards in Exeter, Mo., up to 17 members of Chris Hammen’s and Chris Keeling’s combined families can often be found working in different capacities: a reason for the purchase of the business in January of 2019.
Although Chris and Kim Hammen’s four oldest sons, Clay, Colby, Cale and Cade, and Kim’s brother, Chris Keeling, are the owners of record, their entire families pitch in with the labor. They stay close, with the now-adult sons making a living at the same time.
“These boys are so responsible and dedicated that they could work anywhere they want to, but be scattered all over the country,” Chris Keeling said. “This way, we’re together.”
Hammen’s fourth son, Cade, planted the seed leading to the purchase of Four State Stockyards when he was 16 years old. His eye for cattle-assessing caught the attention of the previous owners of the stockyards.
“They asked me if I wanted to go to work for them,” Cade said. “I told them, no, but that I would be interested in buying the business. They just laughed, probably because of my age. A few years later, though, they came back and asked me if I still wanted to buy.”
“I talked to Dad, since he was the one with the checkbook,” Cade laughed. “He liked the idea, and thought it was a great opportunity for my three older brothers and me to get into business for ourselves in a field we were familiar with.”
Chris Keeling, who has had years of experience working for other livestock auctions, was eager to join his nephews in the purchase.
“I like the challenge of growing a business with my own family,” Keeling said.
Also contributing their time and skill to Four State Stockyards are Chris Hammen’s two youngest sons, Chad and Chet, and Chris Keeling’s sons, Colt, Cash and Carter. From unloading trailers to shuttling cattle in and out of pens, there’s plenty of work for everyone.
The women in the family also play a role.
Chris Hammen’s wife, Kim, runs the stockyard café with the help of her three daughters, Katy, Kloe and Kori, and Chris Keeling’s wife, Kerry, and daughter Lexi. Chris Hammen’s mother, Kitty, and Chris Keeling’s mother, Leona, both lend a hand, too, with Leona baking several pies per week for the café. Although a slice of homemade pie, alone, is worth a trip to the stockyards, the cattle sales are the real attraction.
On Tuesdays, when the stockyard holds their weekly sales, just showing up at sale times isn’t enough.
“There’s a lot of prep and clean-up work that must be done,” Chris Hammen explained. “We’re usually here from 7 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. And on days in between, there’s always someone available to take phone calls and meet with prospective sellers.”
Justin Dodson, an award-winning auctioneer from Welch, Okla., is also glad to support the Hammens and Keelings.
“I’ve heard so many good things about their honesty and good work ethics, I’m pleased to auctioneer for them,” Dodson said.
Since they purchased Four State Stockyards, the Hammens and Keelings have added more fenced pens with feeders and automatic waterers – greatly increasing their holding capacity – and other improvements to increase the sale’s efficiency.
Sales since the purchase have far exceeded their expectations. Chris Hammen credits part of that to the sale day being moved from Saturday to Tuesday.
“People like to have Saturdays free for family activities, without being afraid they’ll miss a sale,” he said.
It doesn’t hurt either that the Hammen boys and Chris Keeling get out into the community and introduce themselves to prospective cattle buyers and sellers, even reaching out into northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma, both within easy driving distance of Exeter.
“I appreciate the support of the community,” Clay Hammen said. “They trust us with their cattle. That means everything in this business.”
“The community response has been more than we dreamed of or hoped for,” Chris Keeling said. “But the best part is that the family gets to work together.”