Buyin' ol' brimmer cows at the auction
"Hunnuh dollah, summa gimme hunnuh. Summa gimme hunnuh uh haff."
Auctions and auctioneers have always held a special fascination for me. When I was just a tad, I spent a lot of time at livestock auctions. They exist today but there are fewer of them. The livestock business — from raising cattle to processing and marketing the meat and byproducts — has changed a lot. But, I hope ranchers still live by the Cowboy Code.
My dad was a rancher. His description would be hoss-trader. For a time during my pre-teen years he was a partner in a livestock auction. Later he was a buyer for meat packing companies. He went to livestock auctions six days a week.
Even with all the hours I spent with him at auctions, I was always in awe of all that happened, and I admired anyone who could auctioneer. At a livestock auction, if you knew the workings and all the players, there could be some pretty good drama.
An amazing thing about most of the players in the auction was that they had no hand-held pocket calculators. Those old cowboys did a lot of math in their head. They had to be good or it could cost big bucks when you're talking about one or two hundred head of cattle or more.
I managed to learn some of the rules at auctions. If you are a buyer, never open the bidding. If you aren't a participant don't raise your hand, wiggle your finger or even wink. You might buy something without realizing it.
At a cattle auction, the good buyers aren't really seen bidding unless you've got a trained eye for that sort of thing. I could sit right beside Dad and more often than not, I wouldn't know he was bidding.
The auc t ioneer wou ld say something like, "Annnd, I SOLD those old brimmer cows to CALTWO (one of Dad's codes at auctions)!"
For a while I tried to learn about the "ol' cow binniss" but it just didn't interest me, even though the auction process did. I'm sure Dad was disappointed though he didn't say so. When I showed an interest in learning the difference between canners, cutters, stockers and feeders, he did his best to try to teach me. But, they all just looked like cows to me.
I knew a "brimmer" but I never discerned an "ol' muley cow" or an "ol' gotch-eyed cow."
Still, I sat and marveled at Dad and his peers. When he bought something he just marked a lot number and a pound price on his tally card but at the end of the auction he knew almost to the penny what the check was going to total.
"Well, I spent $7,000 of Ol' Vernon's money," he'd say with a laugh.
Dad could buy all day long for several different packing companies as well as himself. The auctioneer always knew somehow to whom to charge a purchase. I could never distinguish who the bid was for and Dad wouldn't share his signals with me.
He'd blow my mind occasionally by buying a group of cows at 42 cents a pound, then running them through the auction again in an hour and selling them for 49 cents.
But, the most mind-boggling part of his prowess as a hosstrader was when we'd be waked up in the middle of the night by some freelance cow hauler with an 18-wheeler loaded with cattle. Dad would walk around the vehicle twice and tell the man within 10 pounds the gross weight, within 10 pounds the dressed-out weight and to the penny what the cows were worth. No calculator. Not even a pencil and paper.
They'd seal the deal with a handshake and Dad would say, "I'll meet you out at Webb Bottom 'bout seven in the morning."
Not much business is done that way these days. Pity. Wall Street could use a dose of that integrity.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher. He can be reached by email at wwebb@wildblue. net