Saluting the Colonels
These electronic auctions that are flooding the internet are missing a very integral part: an auctioneer, often referred to as a Colonel. Why auctioneers are called Colonels, I haven’t a clue.
They don’t have anything at all to do with fried chicken, nor is military service mandatory to become a bid caller. It’s the auctioneer who builds momentum in an auction, makes it entertaining and engages in the art of salesmanship.
Once a year, North America’s best livestock auctioneers converge on one of the continent’s leading livestock markets to compete in the World Champion Livestock Auctioneer Contest. If you ever get the opportunity to attend one of these events, I’d urge you to do so.
Even better, if you have some cattle to sell, I’d recommend you consign them. Yes, the 30 semi-finalists invited to compete do so by selling an actual sale.
You can imagine the market magic created when you have the best auctioneers in the world selling your cattle. I know one order buyer who every year buys up a lot of cattle in the country and consigns them to whichever market is hosting the World Championships. He’s made a lot of money doing it because buyers come from everywhere to be seen on TV participating in the World Championships.
I feel privileged to know and have worked with several world champions. To a man, they are professionals with ability that always amazes me. Not only can they all talk faster than a TV preacher at collection time, they are calm as a horse trough and have the unique ability to say something witty at the same time a one-ton bull is trying to get on the auction block with them.
They also wear the strangest clothing this side of the Ladies Lead Contest at the county fair. I suppose their theory is the judges will be more apt to remember a contestant if he is wearing a flashy outfit. So, the auctioneers show up in mauve, orange and lime green clothing – sometimes all on the same sports jacket.
The contestants must also be knowledgeable about the livestock business. But, this wasn’t always the case.
Years ago, auctioneers in other fields were attracted to the World Livestock Championship because of the prestige in winning and the large cash prize. Once a car auctioneer entered the contest.
This was possible because the auctioneers don’t have to “start” their cattle, which requires knowing the cattle market. Darned if the car guy didn’t end up winning the contest.
He was very good, it’s just that the winner usually gets invited to sell special cattle auctions around the country. On his initial outing, the car auctioneer called a steer a heifer and regularly started the cattle about 20 cents over the market. An interview phase has since been added to the contest to make sure the contestants at least know a Hereford from a heifer.
I’ve had the pleasure to be a judge at the World Championships. The contestants are scored on their chant and bid catching ability: the ability to know if a person was just swatting flies or actually bidding.
Judges are also asked, “Would you hire this person to sell a sale for you?” One elderly auction market owner acting as a judge answered an enthusiastic “Yes!” He was so impressed by one of the semi-finalists that he hired him on the spot to sell at his sale barn every week.
At one special sale, the car auctioneer showed up a little over-dressed in the previously mentioned multi-colored sports jacket. Once into the sale, it was evident the closest this guy had ever been to a cow was a fast-food hamburger.
As the day progressed, the auction owner became increasingly uneasy. When a large draft of fancy steers entered the sale ring, the auctioneer started them way too cheap and the buyers were bidding him a nickel at a time. When one of the steers flicked his tail and sent a few flecks of recycled hay towards the auctioneer, he got a sick look on his face and asked the auction owner standing right next to him, “Was that what I think it was?”
To which the owner replied, “Yes Mr. Lamborghini, it was. And it’s a good thing you had your big mouth open or you might have gotten it all over your pretty coat.”