The World Auctioneer Championship recently occurred, and a new article explains why livestock producers should appreciate what auctioneers do for agriculture. But aside from the way these fast-talking promoters help sell products, many appreciate them for their artistry.
Check out this repeat winner from a few years ago to see and hear the speed, stamina, and livestock savvy needed to be the best in the country when it comes to auctioning cattle.
Even those outside the world of agriculture appreciate the rhythm and word play needed to be a good auctioneer. A recent post online highlights the rap skills that make auctioneers successful.
Some of us who grew up on a farm remember the smells, sounds, and vibe of the old sale barns. This sixth generation farmer recalls attending livestock auctions with her dad, and she now sees the ranchers as one giant community where everyone is watching out for each other.
My grandfather’s auctioneer days were over before I knew him, but Dad recalls “Pappy’s” methods and mannerisms.
The Traditional Auction “Cry” Echoes in the Digital Age
In days gone by, those hypnotic cadences rang out in sale barns filled with restless cattle, tobacco-chewin’ farmers, and local women selling meals along with “some of the best darn pie you’ll ever find.” The business end was handled by “clipboard bankers,” and they might send their receipts along a clothesline-pulley system so the transactions could be recorded—a type of dedicated line for the analog age.
Dad has firsthand knowledge of that era since his father—everyone called him Pappy—was an auctioneer. “Good ones knew how to work the crowd,” says Dad. “Pappy had a sense of humor and an easy-going style. He started at his uncle’s sale barn in Zearing, auctioning off anything from hogs to turkeys, and maybe a few geese somebody had in a burlap bag. And local farmers might herd in cattle, sell them off, and then help move them to the train station several blocks away. Townsfolk put up with a few cow pies on the potholed streets.”
Back then, the only digital aspect came when buyers lifted fingers to bid, and the social media interaction was in the form of gestures, grunts, and the daily chit-chat that fueled rural towns. A thin cloud of cigarette smoke and dust might hover above the ring, but the auctioneer kept his voice flowing and the sale moving. A few skinny hogs became “pork chops on the hoof ready to fatten up.” It could be tough putting lipstick on a pig, so they used body language and smooth tongues to emphasize an animal’s positive aspects—sort of like digitally enhancing a photo, but in this case it was verbally hypnotizing the buyer.
Dad says, “Most auctioneers also did house and farm sales, and they thought it was better to have a cold, dreary day in the front yard. It would cut down on the chatter and get sales going.”
Apparently Pappy had another method to keep things rolling during winter sale days. He kept a flask of whiskey in a hidden pocket of his raccoon fur coat. “A bit of antifreeze courtesy of the bootleggers back in prohibition times.”
Pappy was a cattleman at heart, and I imagine he preferred doing livestock sales rather than house or farm foreclosures. “He was good with people and with cattle,” Dad says. “He knew how to keep the crowd interested and the bids flowing.”
That couldn’t have been easy at times. “I heard about an old boy named Junior,” Dad said. “He’d slouch on a bench in the stands, seemingly asleep the whole day, but by the end of the sale, he’d bought a truckload of cattle—usually ones nobody else wanted. When sick, lame, or skinny steers came into the ring, usually somebody would mumble ‘better wake up Junior.’”
Whether it involves eager buyers with laptops or drowsy “Juniors” in the stands, it takes a certain gift of the gab to be a successful auctioneer. Times change, but the traditional auction cry still echoes from sale barns across the country.
by dan gogerty (top photo from youtube.com and bottom photo from missouri.edu)