Chants of champions keep sale humming

Canadian Livestock Auctioneer competition | Contestants judged on rhythm, clarity and control of the sale

STAVELY, Alta. — The air was redolent with manure and auctioneer patter June 1 when 25 contestants competed for the 2012 champion auctioneer title through the Livestock Markets Association of Canada.

Justin Gattey sat in the lunchroom of the iconic Stavely Auction Market studying the “black box” item he would be expected to auction as one of 10 chosen finalists.

The amplified auction going on only a few yards away sometimes drowned out the comments of the soft-spoken auctioneer as he talked about his craft.

“It takes a lot of practice,” he said as he tilted back his cowboy hat.

“Like anything, if you want to be good at something, you have to put the time in. It takes a lot of practice, dedication and hard work.”

Gattey practised hard enough, because he was named the 2012 Canadian Livestock Auctioneer champion later that day in Calgary. He works with Vold Jones Vold Auction in Consort, Alta., and has been selling cattle since 2006, after attending the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Montana.

“My grandfather was an auctioneer, and I grew up on a cattle operation and have just been around cattle all my life,” said Gattey.

Novices to cattle auctions often wonder how auctioneers spot bids, and whether an accidental purchase of 20 musty steers can be made by scratching one’s nose or waving to an acquaintance.

Gattey grins at the thought, but said accidental bids are a rarity.

“Once you’ve done it, you kind of learn who’s buying and who isn’t.”

Patrick Cassidy, who calls the action at the Olds Auction Market, was also a top 10 finalist. He said the people in the livestock business remain the biggest attraction.

“Cattle people, agriculture people, just the whole general idea of being around ranchers and working with cattle” maintain his interest in the auction field.

Like Gattey, Cassidy believes practice makes a good auctioneer.

“If I’m driving by myself, I’m always selling something. It’s something you can do anywhere — in the shower or driving down the road. I stop when I pass vehicles.”

Knowing the market, the buyers and maintaining rhythm are key when it comes to selling, he said.

Fred Bodnarus, another top 10 finalist, is a veteran of the competition and no stranger to the finals. The owner of Bodnarus Auctioneering sells cattle in both Meadow Lake and Spiritwood, Sask.

“It’s a great living. I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” he said as he waited his turn to sell several pens of cattle in front of judges and cattle producers.

Bodnarus decided to become an auctioneer at the age of five. At age 21, he took it seriously and has been selling cattle since 1997. For him, a successful try for the title comes down to poise.

“The secret is just being relaxed and knowing your product,” he said.

Runner-up in the championship was Travis Rogers of Nilsson Brothers in Westlock, Alta. The Mr. Congeniality title went to Rob Bergevin of VJV Foothills Livestock in Stavely, who was also chair of the LMAC convention that took place in Calgary last week.

Mike Fleury, a partner in Saskatoon Livestock Services, was one of the competition judges. He looks for clarity, rhythm, chant, good bid spotting, professionalism and control over the sale.

“A good auctioneer, you can listen to them all day,” he said from a seat in the stands.

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