From the Experts

The fine art of cattle sale etiquette

By Katie MacAuley

IN A bid to boost herd numbers, we decided to attend a cattle auction. Then the night before, Hubby announced he didn’t have time and suggested Junior and I go alone.

I began ruminating on the responsibility. Hubby trusted me to choose cows? Spend that sort of money? What if I came home with nothing? Or worse, what if I returned with a herd of over-priced animals that he didn’t like?

I quickly rang our trusty livestock agent to ask for help. We met an hour before the auction and together perused the pens of cattle. Potential was scrutinised and animals ruled out for a variety of reasons including size, age and udder shape. Preferences recorded on our catalogues, we took our seats in front of the ring. From his pulpit, the auctioneer began preaching the virtues of each cow.

“Milk in the vat today, ladies and gentlemen.” “A nice strong cow, plenty of milk.” “An experienced milker, continues to produce.” “She’ll only make you money, ladies and gentlemen.” “Do I hear a bid?” When the first cow I’d selected in the catalogue entered the ring, our agent looked at me. I nodded. He didn’t move. The bidding commenced and the price quickly escalated. The bidding stopped.

Oh well, there were plenty more nice cows. “For X dollars to the MacAulay family.” The auctioneer pointed to us.

What?! How did that happen? It was the same with the next few cows. Despite our agent sitting statue-still, the next few cows I wanted were sold to us. At a good price. My ear started to itch but I was too scared to scratch it.

If experts could buy cattle without moving, how much money could a novice spend by scratching her ear? Intrigued, I found myself watching our agent instead of the cattle. Turns out it wasn’t telepathy, there was a spotter to our left. A series of lightning fast, barely perceptible nods seemed to be the secret to our success. (At least that’s what I thought I saw—it really was hard to tell.)

Two thirds of the way through the bidding, my ear growing itchier by the minute, Junior nudged me and showed me our running total. “We can only buy one more cow.” I nodded reluctantly, but then the prices dropped. Maybe other people had reached their budgets too?

Several beautiful animals sold for a lot less than I expected so I made a snap executive decision. Hands shaking and with a sick feeling in my stomach, I asked our agent to keep bidding. It was worth it—I just hoped Hubby would understand there wasn’t time to call and discuss it.

Finally the auction was over. My heart rate slowed. Not only had I survived but there was a pen of great cows waiting for us. It felt good. Nearly as good as scratching my ear.