How to Bid on Livestock like a Pro

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). 

Don’t fall

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.