I love auctions and the professionals who put them on. I’d rather watch a good bull sale than the Super Bowl or a Jennifer Anniston movie any day. Now, to the casual observer an auction may look like a simple affair but believe me, there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
A good sale manager can be worth their weight in commission and can pay for themselves if all they do is make a great sale order. For example, many years ago there was a big bull sale in Montana and the owner of the bulls was very innovative and he came up with an idea he called “the bull roll”. If you bought a bull you could just keep buying bulls as they came in the ring for the same price. This would have worked well if the bulls were placed in descending order of quality. Ralph, a ring man friend of mine who also traded bulls on the side, bought the last bull in a pen for cheap money and then he just kept right on rolling the bulls as they started selling on a new pen of bulls that were worth double and triple what he was paying. I think Ralph ended up with 40 bulls when he finally stopped “rolling” them.
A good sale manager is a good livestock judge who can place the animals in their right spot. There’s sort of an unwritten rule that if you have a great bull the AI studs are interested in you start the sale with that bull. But I think the crowd needs to get limbered up a little and then you bring in the show stopper third or fourth in the sale.
Another big decision to be made is if you’re selling yearlings and two year olds which ones do you sell first? There’s a lot of variables and a good sale manager will likely make the correct call. Another quandary arises when you’re selling donor cows, their calves and embryos. Do you sell the embryos and calves first to show how much the offspring are worth, or do you sell the donor cow first to make their eggs and calves fetch more?
A good sale manager also knows how to use any orders he might have. One time at a Brangus bull sale in San Angelo, Texas, I had an order for two bulls and made arrangements with the sale manager ahead of time for my buyer to send a check for the bulls. I finally got the bulls bought near the end of the sale and later the auctioneer told me the sale manager told him to “sell them away from me.” He’d used my little order all day to make the other bulls bring more money.
There’s a lot of psychology in a bull sale. I used to work a lot of all-breed events where a consignor might only have two bulls so we’d bring them both into the ring at the same time and sell “choice”, which meant the winning bidder could take his or her pick. Theoretically the better of the two bulls should sell first but I can’t begin to tell you how many times after we’d sold the first bull we’d joke and say, “Okay, now let’s sell the good one.”
More often than you’d think, the second bull would sell for more than
My dear departed friend Ken Troutt was a World Champion auctioneer and had more tricks up his sleeve than a Vegas magician. His favorite was when he was having trouble getting a bid on a bull. (Yes, there was a time it was tough to sell bulls.) Ken would say, “Open up that gate and let’s give them a choice.” Often we’d bring in another bull and no one would want him either. So we’d bring in another. The most I think we ever got up to was six bulls in a little tiny sale ring that was busting at the hinges. When we finally did sell one for good money Ken asked, “Does anyone else want one of these other bulls for the same price?
Darned if some old boy, bless his heart, didn’t raise his hand and say he’d take the other five for the same price per head we previously couldn’t even get a bid on.