The auctioneer wants just a few dollars more.
“I’ve got $4,500, who’ll give $4,750, $4,750, $4,750?” are the most discernible words in the rolling patter of the auctioneer’s spiel. “What a beauty she is. Look at that rib shape.”
It is the sort of enticement that is heard often at the Fort Worth Stock Show’s West Arena, site of the event’s prestigious Sale of Champions — a raucous cattle auction coming up Saturday that concludes the show, where the winners of the various junior livestock competitions sell their stock for often staggering sums. Last year’s champion steer, for example, brought $210,000 in the sale, which grossed a total of more than $3 million.
But that is just one sale. Throughout the event, the various breed associations have auctions that feature some of the best examples of their breed that are purchased by cattle raisers hoping to improve the quality of their herds.
The begging auctioneer quoted above was at the microphone for the recent Texas Angus Association’s Stars of Texas sale.
“In two months, he’ll be worth twice that much. Talk about a game changer,” were the sort of encouragements heard at that latter sale.
The 10 cattle sales have so far grossed more than $5 million.
“We think of it as a high-profile event for our breeders to present their product to the general public,” said sale manager Robbie Bean for the Texas Angus Association, about his organization's two sales, which, together, grossed more than $1 million.
The Texas Hereford Association is another breed organization with a long affiliation with the Stock Show. Both of its sales are in their 48th year.
“A lot of them just go back to commercial ranchers as what we call ‘front pasture cows.’ They’re proud to own them, proud to look at them and proud to show them to their neighbors,” said Jack Chastain, sale manager and secretary-treasurer of the Texas Hereford Association, about the stock from the Whiteface Replacement Female Sale, which attracts commercial raisers.
“The Cowtown Invitational is what we call our halter sale. It is for show cattle and offers premium bulls and females to be used for breeding stock,” said Chastain.
The buyers and the sellers at the sales come from all over the United States and Mexico, Chastain and Bean said. And the sales are usually part of a package of breed-associated events that includes open shows, meetings and banquets.
“We booked 275 room-nights of hotels for this year’s show. And we served 325 steaks at the banquet,” said Bean.
While some breeds have sales at other stock shows, this show seems to have a special status among those in the cattle industry.
“It’s our national sale, which rotates on a four-city rotation,” said David Hobbs, director of activities for the American-International Charolais Association, which has a show at the Stock Show every year. “We like Fort Worth because it is a nice place to come to, and it has a great facility and staff. I feel the facility outshines all other facilities we use.”
More than steers for sale
The breed sales are attention-grabbing for the cattle people at the Stock Show because of the quality of the stock and the high prices they bring. They are also different from a typical cattle auction in that the stock is sold by the head, not by the pound, as market cattle are usually sold. There are no steers in these sales. Instead, the sales are focused on breeding stock. And not all the livestock sold are seen by the buyers. Most of the sales include bidding on embryos that can be purchased to implant in a recipient heifer or cow.
The trappings of the sale are also a bit different. Potential buyers are aided by slick catalogs with pictures of the stock, an extensive rundown of their lineage and an amazing collection of measures and statistics proving the animals’ worth. They include such details as the average weaning weight of calves from a particular bull or cow.
“The easiest way to make money is to increase weaning weight. It is proven that [Charolais cattle] can increase weaning weight across the board by 40 to 100 pounds,” said Hobbs.
If you attend a sale, don’t worry about scratching your nose and buying a bull. The officials generally know who the registered bidders are and will not take a bid from an ordinary Stock Show patron who decides to stretch at the wrong time. But if you want to bid on the livestock, you can often do so from the comfort of your own home. Most of the sales are broadcast, and buyers can place their bids over the internet or on the phone.
Finally, there is one other important function of the sales: bragging.
Not surprisingly, all the breed associations think their cattle are the best, and these sales provide a way to showcase that point of view.
So take your pick — if your wallet can stand it.