The crowd at United Producers in Maryville, Mo., on Saturday. Notice the dog sitting at the left.
The air in the sale barn was filled with more than the aroma of cattle. A sense of anticipation hung over the crowd and a sort of energy as they took seats early, eager to see just what would happen.
The cattle market is – in the words of one analyst – crazy. Drought and an early freeze have caused the smallest herd of beef cattle in many years. As a result, prices for all kinds of cattle are at record highs. I went to visit my dad on Saturday and tagged along when he went to the cow sale at the sale barn near home.
The auctioneer calls out bids. The sign at top shows they sold for $2,500 each.
Dad had sold a few calves recently, receiving the highest price he’d ever gotten for a calf. In true farmer fashion, he wanted to put the money back into buying more mother cows to have more calves.
Fifteen minutes before sale time, the curved benches of the sale arena started filling up. Nodody wanted to miss this because it felt like just about anything could happen. I sat among those hard-working men who were dressed in brown duck coveralls and muddy boots and thought of a recent visit with a crop farmer. He said you had to be an optimist in this business, otherwise you’d never put seed in the ground.
There was a lot of optimism at the sale barn and it became clear I was rubbing elbows with some high-stakes gamblers. In a matter of minutes, one man spent $137,000 on 55 head of Red Angus heifers. I overheard one guy on his cell phone, I imagine talking to his wife, say: “They’re high. It’s scary.” But his tone suggested it was nothing he couldn’t handle.
There was also this row of adorable future farmers.
The last cow of the sale, a nice three-year-old black Angus cross, was bought by an eternal optimist – 94-year-old Hugh Mires of Maryville.
It also inspired me to do something I’ve never tried before. I uploaded this video to You Tube. If you’ve never heard a livestock auction, it’s interesting to hear how the high rollers do business. If you have been to a sale, you’ll enjoy the familiar cadence.
I was very careful not to scratch my nose for fear I’d bid and spend a year’s salary. You could say that I’m all hat and no cattle, until I can work up the nerve to join the high rollers.