Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hot Wire Broke

"These beauties are hot wire broke."

It sounded to me like they had a future in stealing cars.

When you go to a foreign country, it's always good to have a translator. You wouldn't think you'd need a translator at a cattle sale just a county away. But I did.

Randy provided translation services free of charge at Pratt Livestock Inc. I provided his free comic relief since I asked question after silly question. (Yes, I know it's been said that there are no silly questions: Randy might beg to differ after a day at the sale barn with me!)

By the way, "hot wire broke" means the cattle have been on wheat or rye pasture and are used to the electric fence. In farm wife terms, it means that there's a possibility you won't be called into cattle chasing mode on a daily basis.

There's definitely a lingo and a rhythm to the proceedings at the sale barn. There's a kind of dance between the auction ring and the cattle buyers in the stands.

The guy on the left, Jake Lewis, is the sale manager. He sets the floor price for each pen of cattle. The cattle entered to his right and came into the ring, which has a scale under the floor. He sets the price based on the quality of the cattle, their size and their sex.

The guy in the middle and the guy behind him took turns as auctioneers. It's a music all its own as they urge the buyers to raise the price they're willing to pay in dime or quarter or dollar increments. And my friend Anita DeWeese, on the right, is typing frantically into the computer, trying to keep the amount per pound up to date as the auctioneer continues his spiel. As the cattle left the ring, she was kind of like an air traffic controller, speaking into her microphone to tell the guys in the back where to put the animals until it was time to load them into semis for their next destination.

Besides a translator, I guess I needed a sign language interpreter, too. I really wanted to take a photo of a young cattle buyer in his black cowboy hat, Wranglers and big belt buckle. But I was old enough to be his mother, and I didn't figure it was appropriate.

But during a long day, he did provide some people-watching moments. I truly couldn't figure out his method. Sometimes he'd tap his cards once against his other cards to indicate a bid. Other times he hit them hard against his open palm. Sometimes he'd wiggle a finger to let the auctioneer know he was interested. Other times he'd nod his head as the price escalated upwards and then gave a no-nonsense cut off with both arms when it got a little too rich for his blood.

My cowboy-hatted friend pumped his fist repeatedly. Let's just say he wasn't excited about the good cattle run. He was wanting most of the heifers he'd bought tested for pregnancy. I'll let you use your imagination about how the fist pumping went.

He was kind of like a poker player, fanning out his cards, and contemplating his next move. Randy had one card to write down our cattle and the prices they brought.

The black-hatted cowboy had at least half a dozen. We surmised that he was buying cattle for several different customers. The different cards represented different customers and the semis needed to haul them.

But you don't even have to be in Pratt to bid on the cattle. Technology has come to the sale barn: A series of cameras lets off-site bidders in on the action, too. When I was a little girl, I remember lines of phones around the upper perimeter of the auditorium. These days, the buyers use their own cell phones to keep in touch with the people who are ultimately paying the bills - whether that's a feedlot or a private buyer who is looking to add to his own cow herd.

It was definitely a male-dominated room, though there were "21 ladies done like you want things done and brought to town for the first time."

Translation: The 21 heifers looked like quality cattle and were raised at a family farm.

"These heifers are green."

Translation: Well, they looked brown to me, but Randy explained that the auctioneer meant they'd been on wheat or rye and were ready to gain bulk at the feed bunk.

There were a few gentlemen, too, though these particular gentlemen didn't wear cowboy hats and seed caps. These "gentlemen" were bulls, not to be confused with steers.

All in all, 6,000 head of cattle moved through the ring last Thursday. Today's another sale day at Pratt Livestock. But they'll have to do it without me this week.


  1. Good blog. I watch that sale on the Internet weekly. It is a very nice sale barn and they have a nice facility. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for reading. Hope you'll visit again!