Cattle auctioneering involves much more than the chant, although that’s the most common aspect associated with the skill.
Thirty cattle auctioneers were put to the test in the auction ring May 12 when Perlich Brothers Auction Mart in Lethbridge hosted the 20th annual Canadian Livestock Auctioneer Championship.
What’s the secret to success in the cattle auction ring?
“To be a good auctioneer, you’ve got to be very well balanced,” said Ryan Konynenbelt of the Southern Alberta Livestock Exchange in Fort Macleod, Alta. He was flushed but feeling relieved after his turn at the gavel.
“You’ve got to have salesmanship. You’ve got to have that personality that you can connect with people and your clients and buyers.”
The chant is only part of it.
“There’s so much more behind the scenes,” he said.
“It takes a lot more than just sitting there and chanting away all day.”
That includes talking with consigners, getting their business and then ensuring the animals are sorted into suitable lots attractive to order buyers.
“Especially in the fall, when you’re selling a consignor’s calves, it is pretty much their only paycheque they’re getting for the year so you try to do your best for the consignor every single time as well as work hand in hand with your buyers.”
Ryan Hurlburt, head auctioneer for Saskatoon Livestock Sales, was the 2016 winner of the champion title and one of seven judges at this year’s event.
“It was a tremendously tough field,” he said.
“As a past contestant, I can tell you that they’re not easy. Those guys, they probably didn’t sleep the night before, or didn’t sleep very well.”
Clarity is job one for auctioneers in the ring, he added. Bid spotting is next on the list and then there’s attitude.
“If you don’t conduct yourself in a professional manner, you lose the confidence of the buyers and if you lose the confidence of the buyers, it’s tough to have an auction sale,” he said.
“The biggest thing about being an auctioneer is you’re a representative of your community. You represent your stockyard, your firm, and so a very important part of that is your professionalism, how you conduct yourself.”
Rhett Parks of Whitewood, Sask., drew the number 13 spot in the order that contestants showed their skills. Whitewood Livestock Sales is slated to hold the competition in 2018.
“There’s lots of things that the judges are looking for here today,” he said.
“Rhythm and chant, are you clear and easily understood, professionalism, knowledge of cattle. Do you know to start them at $2 if they’re worth $2.25 or do you start them at 50 cents when they’re worth $2? That’s a lot more work if you start too low. It makes for a long day in the sale barn.”
The number 13 also figured in the event for Rob Bergevin of Foothills Auctioneers Inc. in Stavely, Alta. This was his 13th competition, and enjoyment of the event hasn’t faded during his 30 years in the business.
He said interest in auctions as a method of selling and as a career is stronger than ever before, in part because of television shows that regularly show auctions of various items.
Bergevin is a believer in open bidding as a method of true price discovery. A simple listing of price by electronic or other means will never draw a bid higher than that list price, he said.
“But it happens in our markets every week,” he said.
“It can go either way, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s a true price discovery.
“(The auction is) the only place that you can get more than you’re asking for. It doesn’t always happen but it’s the only place it can ever happen.”
And what about that chant?
“No one seems to know for certain when or where the rhythmic chant used by most North American auctioneers originated,” writes Darrell Johnston on the Auctioneers Association of Alberta website.
“It just seems to have evolved of necessity as auctioneers saw the need to sell items in a more rapid manner. The chant is a tool the auctioneer uses to hold the audience’s attention and to keep the auction moving at a steady pace.”