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It’s the Pitts: Skinner’s Magic Show

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

It’s getting really hard to find good help in agriculture, especially milkers, shepherds and cowboys. 

It’s getting so hard in the dairy industry dairymen are now using robots and teaching cows to milk themselves. That’s right, dairy cows are voluntarily entering enclosures because they’re getting some cow candy as a reward, and while they’re standing there eating, a robot attaches a milking machine which milks them three times per day.

Dairymen might have found a way to relieve their labor headache, but the sheep and beef industries haven’t been so lucky, although I got a glimpse of the answer 45 years ago.

Bull sales were really different a half century ago than they are now. Instead of 500 bulls in one sale, a producer might have 70 bulls to sell and it took three hours to do it. 

Then, along came World Champion Auctioneer Skinner Hardy who owned an auction market north of Bakersfield, Calif. He had a yearly all-breed bull sale in which he’d sell as many as 650 bulls in one afternoon. 

To get all of the bulls sold, Skinner did something radically different – instead of taking five minutes per bull, he sold one every 31 seconds. As a ring man I knew I’d never gone that fast before on anything without wings and a fuselage.

After the sale, the auction crew knew we’d been a part of something new and exciting, but we never envisioned four decades later production sales from Montana to Texas would sell as many as 5,000 head of cattle in one afternoon.

Word spread rapidly about Skinner’s sale, and the next year we had sale committees from across the country at ringside to see Skinner’s magic show. Because Skinner was also a highly-sought-after purebred auctioneer, across the country he sped them up too and the “magic of momentum” was born. 

And who would’ve ever guessed selling bulls faster would result in higher prices. I think it was because the buyers didn’t have time to chew on their pencil, ask their buddy for advice and wonder if their wives would approve.

I had my own reasons for wanting to go fast that day. I knew a bowl of Joan’s berry cobbler awaited me at the end of the sale, and I had to drive five hours to a sale the next day.

As the announcer for a large video auction company for 20 years, I know video sales would have never been possible if we hadn’t sped up the pace because we had to buy satellite time which was very expensive. 

I’ll never forget the time we sold our first lot for $1 million and it took all of 30 seconds to do it. And those ZX Ranch cattle topped the market.

The real reason we were able to sell bulls this fast was because Skinner had a great crew in what is often referred to as the “back end.” These were the cowboys on horseback, swinging gates and getting the cattle to and from the sale ring so the front end was able to sell them fast.

These folks are the unseen heroes in any successful auction, and Skinner had the best. His secret was a yard man named Ron Evans and his mostly-female crew who worked every Monday in exchange for paltry wages and a chance to ride their horses.

After the sale I remember sitting in the coffee shop gobbling down Joan’s cobbler when some exhausted members of Skinner’s cowgirl crew came in for a quick cup of coffee before heading back out to load up the bulls. 

To show my gratitude for what they’d done that day, I bought them all a bowl of Joan’s cobbler and congratulated them on a job well done. To a person they all looked at me funny.

“What? Did I say something wrong?” I asked.

To which their leader replied, “No, it’s just Iʼve been doing this for 25 years and this is the first time this has happened.”

“What, you’ve never had a free bowl of Joan’s cobbler before?” I asked.

“No, I never got a compliment before,” she said.

I learned a lesson that day and one which could cure any labor problems we might have in the future – sometimes the best cowboys are cowgirls.

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