Have you ever been to a livestock auctioneering contest? Ever been to a livestock salebarn?Livestock markets are where cattle are sold in a live setting, with an auctioneer calling the price, and buyers bidding until the cattle are sold for the highest possible price (assuming the auctioneer doesn't miss a bid). Buyers can bid live in the salebarn, or from the phone or Internet in some instances.
The contest I attended was an LMA (Livestock Marketing Association) World Livestock Auctioneer Championship Quarterfinal Contest.
There were 20 men competing, and the top 8 moved on to the semi-final round of competition, which will be held this summer. This was one of four quarterfinal rounds held across the country, and the top 8 from each of those moves to the semi-final round. The Canadian Champion is also allowed to compete, starting in the semi-final round.
Contestants are judged on clarity of chant, ability to catch bids, whether judges would hire the guy, and if they believe he would be a good representative of the livestock industry. The stakes are high in this contest, and if you win the world it is like winning the world series. The world champion wins $5,000, a custom belt buckle, diamond ring, use of a new pickup for their year of reign, and numerous other prizes. Perhaps more notable is the impact it has on their career. If you're named a world champion auctioneer, it will give you opportunities never seen otherwise, and you will meet more people than you can count within the livestock industry. You can also only win once. So, once you're named the World Champion Auctioneer of 2009, 2010, etc..., you will always be the World Champion for that year.
It's a big deal to these men, and you hear the best of the best in the profession at these contests.
This contest was in Colorado. This is an actual salebarn, which hosted the event. The contest was held on a normal sale day, and the guys sold actual cattle to actual buyers. The barn worked extra hard to have a good string of feeders for the guys to sell. What I mean by that is there were over 4,000 weaned calves weighing between 400 and 800 pounds that were sold during the contest.
The contestants go one at a time, and sell eight lots of cattle apiece. One lot is one group, and can be anywhere from a single animal to over 100. Cattle are sorted by owner (no mixing cattle of different owners), sex (steers and heifers), weight, and quality. Each guy sold eight lots because that way the judges get a feel for how he sounds, how clear his voice is, and various other things.
The judges are mixed among the crowd you see, as are the buyers. Usually there aren't this many people at a normal sale, but the contest drew family, friends and observers that normally wouldn't attend. This adds to the competition as the auctioneers have to spot the buyers, and get their bids, without much help.
Before anything happened, a prayer was said, the Canadian National anthem was played out of respect for the Canadian competitor, and the American National Anthem was sung by a local high schooler.
Each contestant would enter the block, which is the box area with the people in it on the far side of the photo. The auctioneer always sells from the block, and there are also a couple clerks, who make sure the cattle are weighed and counted correctly, and penned correctly after being sold based on how whoever buys them wants them penned. Buyers are identified by numbers. So one buyer might be number 105, then he will add additional numbers to sort how his cattle are penned after he buys them. So, he will likely have 105-4, 105-6, 105-7 pens to sort his purchases. I clerked at a salebarn for a year, and it can be a stressful job at times. The barn owner or manager is also usually on the block to set prices, answer the phone, make decision about cattle, etc... These people are all on the block so they can readily see the cattle, and so the auctioneer and owner can see all the buyers, who sit in the stands.
The cattle are sold in what is called the ring. The ring is the pen you see, and it's actually all on a set of scales. Most cattle of this size and age are sold by the pound, so everything is weighed. You can see the information on weight, headcount and price on the computer screen above the ring and block. One of the clerks is who enters this information for every lot.
There is also an entire crew working outside to sort cattle and move them to the ring to be sold, then moving them to the various buyers pens after they're sold. These people also unload and load out cattle all day as they arrive and leave throughout the course of the sale. The running of a salebarn is a complex, intricate thing that requires a lot of precise work by a lot of people for however long the sale lasts.
Anyway, each contestant entered the block, sat down, and gave a brief introduction. Then he would jump right into selling. The barn manager would set the price, and the guy would sell them.
Meanwhile, the guys in the ring, who are called ringmen, would turn the cattle a couple times so the buyers could inspect them and determine if they wanted to buy them, and at what price.
For each new owner who was selling, the auctioneer would provide any information of note on the cattle to the crowd. This information might include how long they have been weaned, the diet they've been fed, what shot's they've had, and any other health or nutritional information that may help them sell. Here is my boyfriend reading about this group of steers. Each owner typically has multiple lots, so it's a toss up as to whether a contestant will have to read about one, or several, owner's livestock.
Then off they go again, chanting away, gesturing for bids, and talking with the crowd.
Here's what it looks like from the auctioneer's viewpoint.
Roughly two-thirds of the way through selling a lot of cattle, they are let out of the ring, and the next bunch is let in. This keeps things flowing, and prevents a loss of time between each lot. With over 4,000 head to sell, you don't want to waste time between lots. This perfect timing doesn't happen with every lot, but in general a good salebarn can really move through the cattle.
After each guy was done, he would thank the crowd, and the next guy would come up. If it wasn't a contest, the barn's auctioneer would just continue on all day, until every last head was sold.
As I said, there were a lot of great guys at the contest, and I heard a lot of different styles descriptive phrases and comments, and methods of getting bids from the buyers. Of the guys at this contest, around 15 have qualified for the semi-finals, and just under half have placed in the top 10 in the world before. It was pretty stacked, and interesting to watch.