Peggy Sanders: Confluence Chronicles 8-10-13

Peggy Sanders
Oral, S.D.
It is never too early to start kids to thinking about cows and sale barns.

In 1969 there was a movie called “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.” It was about a seven-day whirlwind tour of Europe wherein the tourists had to remember what day it was in order to know what country they were touring. It is somewhat the same scenario for livestock auction barns in this area. If it’s Tuesday, it must be Gordon, Wednesday, Rushville, Friday, Crawford. Cattlemen need a calendar in addition to their road maps. There is no better way for any market — land, livestock, antiques — to set prices than at public auction.

If you ever get a chance to go, attending a livestock auction is a treat. There is a language to be learned and a style of speech that is not heard anywhere else. Phrases that may be heard include, “Poppin’ good calves, green as grass, or as good as they come.” Some comments don’t even mean anything but are part of the auctioneer’s banter, such as, “Bottom of the hay.” Breeding cattle are sold by the head and the auction cry refers to dollars per head. Butcher cattle are auctioned by the pound and bids are raised by nickels and dimes, instead of dollars. The animals walk into the sale ring that has a weight scale underneath it. While the auctioneer sells, the weight is shown on a screen.

An auction is also a social event. For the area residents it’s a time to see neighbors, the order buyers can catch up on each other’s activities. Many buyers keep the same schedules each week, and discuss the prices for animals sold in the other region. For people watchers it’s quite an experience to see the socialization processes as they unfold. Of course the best food around is served at the sale barn café on sale day, where beef is always featured in several entrees.

Part of the fun for observers, and a challenge for bid takers, is to see who is bidding. There seems to be an art of how subtle the bidder can be. Livestock bidders don’t shout nor draw attention to themselves. Watch the bid takers who are in the sale ring next to the auctioneer. See where they are looking, then locate the person who seems to be bidding. Intently watch to see if you can determine what that particular bidder’s signal is. You might see a very slight nod of the head, but the signal is probably less obvious, such as the gentle wiggle of a thumb. The bid takers get a feel for what each buyer is looking for and with repeat buyers, they also learn the bidder’s habits.

A word of warning: if a fly is bothering or you wave at your neighbor who just walked in the door, you may end up being the proud owner of several head of livestock. That could be a problem if you live in an apartment.

Peggy can be contacted through her website, ❖