Sales barn day

Going to the local weekly livestock sales barn is a bit like attending church. The farm folks and buyers sit in the same spot week after week, year after year. Once a month, for at least 55 years, I have attended the Tuesday afternoon livestock sales barn in Cobden. I started going there occasionally with my father back in the early 1960s.The barns have been expanded over the years, but the cafeteria still serves coffee and lunches. It’s a great place to meet and to socialize with fellow farmers. No one dresses up. Unlike church, there are no suits or ties. 

The main buyers sit on cushioned seats at ringside. Others prefer to sit up higher, like the two Muslim buyers who have come in recent years to buy cattle (fat heifers, fattened steers and even young bulls) for their slaughterhouse in the area. There are perhaps a dozen farmers and retired farmers who are the “regulars,” seldom missing a sale. They sit on benches scattered throughout the arena where they can look down at the ring and see the cattle weight flashed on the wall. Three elderly men have come weekly for probably 60 years.

I like to sit two seats from ringside, across from where the main buyers are, observing them and the animals in the ring. The buyers are cool and relaxed, making purchases with a flip of their thumb, a nod or a wink. They will bid up to a certain price per pound and then stop with a quick small shake of their head.

Livestock parade

The auctioneer is a local farmer who also has an auctioneering business. He knows everyone by name and there’s always some light-hearted bantering going on if there’s a little delay in getting animals in or out of the ring. I kid the auctioneer that if it wasn’t for us spectators filling the arena to capacity every week he wouldn’t have an audience for his weekly show. He laughs and retorts that he should be selling admission tickets for the show now that it’s so popular.

I’m never more proud than when I have a pen of great-looking identical cattle in the ring and the auctioneer announces they are my cattle. He does that when there are groups of “dandy cattle” in the ring.

Each week livestock, sheep, maybe a few hogs, and occasionally horses come from a wide area, including the Pontiac area of Quebec along the Ottawa River. The sale the week before Christmas started off by selling a few Billy goats that had everyone chuckling as they darted about the ring not wanting to go through the exit door. Later a quiet haltered donkey was led around the ring and that brought some good-natured calls to the ringman “Don’t get too chummy with him.” The animal only brought $150.

During the fall months, stockers (spring calves) ready to be fattened up for the feedlots are sold in groups of identical colour and weight. At the pre-Christmas sale there were 250 to be sold. These animals can be very unpredictable as they have just come off grass and haven’t been handled much. The ringman’s job is to turn animals around so buyers can see them from all sides. The ringman has to be ready to step behind a gate if he senses an animal will attack. He never walks directly behind an animal, except when selling docile dairy cows. That day, there were two stockers in the ring, not wild or jittery at all. But one of the animals suddenly leaped backwards and lashed out a leg towards the ringman. Luckily he was on his toes and didn’t get nailed in the groin.

As the pre-Christmas sale was winding down late in the afternoon, the cafeteria staff put out plates of sandwiches, cheese, pickles, pickled eggs and large layered cakes for the patrons. There was just the one week that the sales barn was closed for Christmas but it was business again as usual on Dec. 29.


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