In 1969, there was a movie called “If It’s Tuesday, It 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. Regular sales follow a pattern. If it’s Wednesday, it must be Sterling, Colo., or Bassett, Neb. Friday sales include Torrington, Wyo., and Lexington, Neb. Saturday is Buffalo, Wyo. During fall run additional sale days are often added. There is no better way for any market — antiques, land, livestock — to set prices than at public auction.
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 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 how the grass looks in the areas they’ve traveled. Many buyers keep the same schedules each week. 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. When my brother and I were kids, Chadron, Neb., had a sale barn. My brother and I competed for how many bottles of pop we could get our dad to buy us while at the sale. If only one of us attended, we had bragging rights to the sibling.
Part of the fun for observers, and a challenge for bid takers, is seeing who is bidding. There seems to be an art of how subtle the bidder can be. Bidders don’t shout nor draw attention to themselves at livestock auctions. Watch the bid takers who are in the sale ring and next to the auctioneer. Locate the person who seems to be bidding. Then 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.
If it’s Tuesday in western Nebraska, it must be Gordon. Wednesday, Rushville. On Friday, I might see you in Crawford, our “local” sale barn which is only 80 miles from our place.
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