When people ask my wife what I do for a living she replies, “He’s a writer.” It’s the only time I’ve ever heard her lie. Actually, I spend 80% of my work day going to cattle auctions and ranching and only about 20% of my time writing about it. But it doesn’t sound very impressive to tell people that your husband makes his living taking bids at cattle auctions. Especially if that person is your future mother-in-law.
I’ll never forget the time 46 years ago when my soon-to-be wife tried to explain to her mother that her precious daughter was going to marry some bum whose only talent was to be able to distinguish when a person was scratching himself or actually trying to place a bid.
“But couldn’t anybody do that?” I remember my mother-in-law asking.
Of course they could!
The problem is that I wanted to be a livestock writer. But when I got started in this business to be a livestock journalist meant that you had to also work ring at cattle auctions. I suppose this tradition got started decades ago with the traveling field men who worked for the various farm weeklies whose duty it was to attend cattle auctions and then to write sale reports for their papers. An auctioneer one day at a cattle sale probably saw all the reporters standing around and suggested that they do something useful, like help him spot bids at the sale. That’s exactly how I was recruited to announce big video auctions too and I did it for over 20 years.
Now days these talented professional ring men are called “field editors” despite the fact that their writing chores are limited to signing their names on credit card receipts.
But if you wanted to write about livestock you had to work the auctions. It’s a dirty job but somebody had to do it. The biggest problem is that standing around an auction ring in close proximity to all kinds of livestock can get downright nasty. Whether it is cows, bulls or spitting llamas, your clothes tend to get covered in used hay.
I’ve seen a beautiful lady in an expensive silk dress sitting on a bale of hay at a cow sale get covered from head to foot by a cow with good aim that had been in a feedlot eating yogurt for three months. I’ve also seen a leading cowboy dignitary sitting in the front row at a bull sale get so drenched he looked like he’d been attacked by a manure spreader. He was so embarrassed that he just sat there the rest of the day with manure dripping off his new hat. He wouldn’t move. I have also seen an auctioneer on the auction block get doused by two animals at the same time. If he hadn’t had his mouth open at the time he’d have got it all over his face too. So you can imagine how dirty a ring man can get.
The real problem comes when I take my manure stained clothes to the cleaners. After going to the same laundry lady in town for ten years she finally asked me one day,” You know, usually I can tell from a person’s clothes what his occupation is. For example, a welder’s clothes always have tiny burn holes in them and a mechanic’s clothes are always smudged with grease. But your clothes puzzle me. What do you actually do for a living?”
“I’m a writer,” I said proudly.
“Oh that explains it,” she said. “You’re leaking.”