We are in the middle of bull sale season. For those of us in the cattle business it is one of the best and most stressful times of the year.
Oh, sure it is a lot of fun. You get a great meal, see a lot of old friends, and even get some good bling but there is the business side of the day, too. On a side note, it is much more relaxing to go to a sale when you are not really planning to buy anything, but it is not nearly as exhilarating.
Attending a bull sale requires a great deal of time and preparation before you ever go. It all starts when the catalog comes in the mail. It is a lot like when you were a kid and the toy catalogs would come out. Well, except the things advertised cost a lot more money and you have to pay for them yourself, but it is kind of the same idea. Mostly it is pages and pages of items or bulls, in this case, that you really want but can’t afford.
Hours are spent pouring over the offerings and looking for just the right bull that will fit the genetic needs of your herd. If I were a realist here, I would skip the first 10 or so bulls because often they are in a league I don’t and can’t play in. Sometimes for fun I try to be the first one to bid on one of them so I can say I did. Of course, that is followed by an uncomfortable period of trying not to make eye contact with the ringman. But I am jumping ahead of myself. I really enjoy studying the pedigrees and performance of each bull and dreaming about how he could fit into my cowherd.
Now days most of the sales have online videos. I feel obligated to watch them, but honestly, I can’t tell much from a video. It is the Zoom effect on bull sales. I don’t really get much out of Zoom meetings either, but I log on because that is what I am supposed to do. I will tell you that both of my kids seem to like the videos, which is a sign of my age.
Then comes the day of the sale. I have my own routine and it involves getting to the sale early. I like going through each pen and really looking at the bulls I have carefully researched and marked in my sale catalog.
There is an art to looking at the bulls without drawing any more attention than needed. I don’t want to tip off anyone else on what I am interested in. Of course, that would involve the notion that people actually think I know what I am doing, which is only real in my own head. Only muted motions and whispers are OK. It is a quasi-trade secret that Lot 16 is a good bull and might just be a bargain. No need for a competing bidder to know that.
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Then the sale starts and there is a lot of pressure. You are making decisions that will affect your cow herd for years to come. It’s even worse if you are team bidding because that half second of hesitation by the other team member might be the difference in getting the buy of a lifetime. Then there is the whole thing about when to start bidding and how fast to bid. I think I have tried all different types of approaches, and none worked better than others.
Once the bidding does start the biggest question is how far to go. Well, that’s not usually much of a question for my limited budget, but you do have to consider whether another $250 bid will win the bull.
Of course, there is also the very real concern with your second or third choice selling before your first pick. Do I pull the trigger now or wait? It's nerve wracking knowing that the genetic direction of your entire herd rests upon this split-second decision.
Then there are those agonizing seconds you wait to see if you are the winning bid. Internet bids have made this even worse. You find out you have been bidding against someone miles away that you will never see. Dad was right, the internet is the ruination of modern civilization.
Then there is the momentary exhilaration of being the winning bidder. Yeah, I won, now I get to go write a big check. Bobby Bear had that one right, I’m the winner. Then come the anxious hours the rest of the sale takes, and you see whether you overpaid or got a bargain. I will say that I have become particularly good at picking out really expensive bulls over the years.
Then comes the post-sale period of rechecking the prices of not only the bulls you bought but the ones you didn’t buy also.
There is nothing quite like a good bull sale.
My grandpa used to go to farm sales and buy “stuff.” i
It’s kind of the same, except my ‘stuff” costs a lot more. It's all good because it will be about 18 months before I know if I made a good decision.
Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension educator for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at email@example.com.