A Big Bull Shipper
Published on Feb. 22, 2020
Back when I was a travelin’ man people used to call me a big bull shipper. At least that’s what I thought they were saying. The reputation was well earned because I used to buy a lot of bulls every year for friends and customers.
I worked bull sales all over the country as a ring man and I was the announcer for a big video auction company for over 20 years. I suppose my friends figured I might say something nice about their consignment and powerful bull battery if I was the one who bought the bulls to begin with.
I bought truckloads of bulls for some of the biggest names in the business who I’m sure would not want their names associated with mine.
My friends and neighbors thought as long as I had to go to the sales anyway I might as well do something constructive and buy their bulls. There were other factors at work. Most of my friends are as tight as I am and they didn’t want to spend the $12.99 Motel Six was charging for a room 20 to 30 years ago.
There’s also the fact 10 percent of the general population are auction terrorphobics. Their hands get clammy, their eyes become glazed and their bidding arm and hand are suddenly paralyzed. This is how you end up with a rancher who bought a Longhorn at an all-breed bull sale instead of the Charolais he came for. Or a bull with a 112-pound birthweight instead of the heifer bull that was desired.
In my bull buying days things were much easier, and you didn’t have all these abbreviations and numbers cluttering up the sale catalog and clouding the mind. Stuff like $W, %F, $G, $B, RE, CW, CEM, MARB and HDK are turning ranchers˛ into computer geeks. Forty years ago, we were lucky to get a weaning weight, a sire, dam, four legs and a gear box that worked. Heck, the all breeds bull sale at San Francisco’s Cow Palace didn’t even demand a semen check on the sale bulls. In San Francisco I’m sure they thought it was discriminatory and sexist.
I thought it was asking a lot that one rancher I bought bulls for insisted I look at the bull’s mother and sisters before I spent the $850 he gave me to buy each bull.
The strangest request I had was from a guy who was at the sale. It was his theory that he was such an astute rancher that people would watch him and try to buy the same bulls he did, thus costing him more.
So we worked out an arrangement where he’d remove his hat when he wanted me to buy the bull in the ring. He’d bought five bulls in a row before he remembered to put his hat back on!
I can only remember a couple times when I really messed up. Once I bought two really good and expensive bulls for one friend and two really cheap ones for another guy and I had them shipped to an auction market equidistant to both their ranches. The problem arose when the cheap bull buyer got there first and took the two expensive bulls. Oh well, at least one guy was happy.
Then there was the time I was unceremoniously run out of Montana. It seems in that wonderful state, overflowing with great cattle, there is an unwritten rule that auctioneers will only take $250 bids or greater and I kept trying to advance the bid by increments of $12.50.
The most purebred cattle I ever bought at one sale was 42 head and I agonized over every one. I always tried to arrange cheap trucking and I only exceeded my limit once and that was by $50. I also never charged anyone a dime for buying bulls.
As a result, there were a few nice thank-you letters, and many ranchers showed their appreciation at Christmas. Over the years I was given boxes of rice, Pendleton blankets, crates of apples, styrofoam containers of great steaks, peaches, cans of almonds and olives and a beautiful Mark Dahl-made silver belt buckle. One smart aleck, the guy I bought a black Limousin bull for instead of the red one he requested, even sent me a brand-new pair of eyeglasses.