The sale barn, where livestock is bought, sold, and sometimes bartered in the parking lot, is your local hub for agricultural activity. It’s a good place to connect with other farmers—just don’t yawn or scratch your head because you might accidentally buy a cow. Such faux pas are common among newcomers to a stockyard.
As a child, perhaps you longed to be a professional sale-barn bidder. Or perhaps not. But in rural culture, it’s nearly as common a dream job as a cowboy, county agent, or veterinarian. Even full-grown adults, while listening to an auctioneer jabber endlessly, have been known to daydream about life as a high-profile livestock trader. Unfortunately, daydreaming is a sure sign you’re an amateur buyer. Professional buyers sit stoic in the crowd, impervious to the hypnotizing effect of an auctioneer’s voice, bidding with nearly imperceptible winks, head nods, and twitches. Rumor has it, the best sale-barn buyers can blink Morse code with their eyes.
Professional buyers are rock stars of rurality. After thundering into the parking lot with a livestock trailer capable of hauling a small herd of elephants, a professional moseys over to inspect the bovines while awestruck onlookers ask for autographs on bidding cards and advice on buying. The professional obliges, scribbling a pithy line like, “Buy low. Sell high—High Bid Hal.” Hal then enters the arena fashionably late and sits proudly in his reserved seat in direct line of sight of the auctioneer. Moments later, a murmur ripples through the crowd when Hal buys his first of many cows.
Of course, we all can’t be as suave as High Bid Hal, but I’ve studied his behavior and gleaned some helpful tips on how to resemble a professional sale-barn bidder and strike fear in your bovine buying competition. Follow these tips, and you’ll resemble a competent procurer of livestock in no time.
Do your homework
Don’t arrive at the sale barn and start buying willy-nilly. Although professionals do this, buying willy-nilly is considered an advanced technique that takes many years to master. Instead, spend time at your stockyard studying the process. Also, learn the markings. Often cows will be marked with spray paint or a sticker. Different colors represent different things. For instance, a red dot might mean “steer” or a yellow dot might mean “confirmed pregnant.” Thus, a red and yellow dot together would mean a confirmed pregnant steer, in which case you should buy that miraculous animal.
Show No Emotion
Don’t smile at the sale barn. Don’t make eye contact with humans. Such behavior is considered a sign of weakness. It’s best not to attempt jokes either, unless you’re the auctioneer who will likely impersonate a stand-up comic before the sale starts. Whatever you do, don’t laugh at the auctioneer’s jokes. The auctioneer is merely trying to loosen up the crowd to encourage bidding. But if you’ve done your homework, you’ve heard these jokes before. Auctioneers rarely come up with new material.
Walk the Catwalk
Strolling the catwalk is an essential job function for supermodels and sale-barn bidders alike. At a stockyard, the catwalk is the elevated walkway that allows you to view animals in the pens below. If you’re a sale-barn novice, practice your walk at home, especially if you’re afraid of heights. Many professional sale barn bidders prefer a mosey, though you can try a saunter or amble. Advanced sale-barn stars will often have a trademark “hitch in their gitty-up” that sets their walk apart from amateurs (If you’re a British farmer, please visit the Ministry of Silly Walks to search for trademarked hitches. America has no such regulatory body, so trademarked walks here mean nothing. If you don’t like Monty Python, please disregard the previous joke).
Have your bidding card ready:
Nothing says amateur like fumbling to find your bidding card, which contains your all-important bidder identification number. Livestock sales are fast paced. For instance, a typical cattle sale might go as follows:
“A good steer, who’ll give me a dollar fifty—fifty cents, fifty cents, fifty cents? Alright, dollar forty, looking for forty, looking for forty, looking for forty to start. That’s a good steer now. Someone start it. thirty-five cents, thirty-five, thirty-five, thirty-five, looking for thirty-five cents. THIRTY-FIVE—top right corner! Now forty, looking for forty, huhmana huhmana forty, huhmana huhmana forty. FORTY over here! Now forty-five, forty-five, forty-five, forty-five, forty-five, forty-five, looking for forty-five, looking for forty-five, looking for forty-five. Now looking for forty-two. Down low, FORTY-TWO! Now forty three, a dollar forty-three, dollar forty-three, dollar forty-three. That’s a good steer, good steer, good steer. Forty-three, looking for forty-three, huhmana huhmana huhmana forty three. FORTY-THREE—top right! Now forty-four, forty-four, forty-four, forty-four, forty-four, forty-four, huhmana huhmana forty-four looking for forty-four. Going once, going twice, sold FORTY-THREE! Top right corner!”
Though seemingly impossible, all this verbiage is uttered and the steer is sold in five seconds total. And the process is repeated instantaneously with another cow—if, that is, the previous buyer had his or her bidding card ready. If not, the whole auction comes to a jarring halt and people glare. Whatever you do, don’t get flustered and flash your card upside down—you’ll be laughed out of the arena. Though speed is important, it’s better to draw slow and shoot for accuracy than fall victim to vicious sale barn humor.
Having read these tips, you’ll soon achieve stockyard stardom. If in doubt, just remember: buy low, sell high. It’s that simple.