It had been a while since I last visited a livestock auction, so I made a trip to a small auction near where I was raised. Located in ranching country, the auction market is known as a good source of stocker and feeder cattle. And judging by the number of local ranchers I recognized, stocker cattle would find good demand to go back to the country for summer grazing.

As always, the entrance to the auction ring was crowded, but once I squeezed through I could see plenty of empty seats. I picked a spot about half-way up, sat down and proceeded to act as inconspicuous as possible. When all of the old cows were finally sold, small groups of grass-ready stocker cattle began drifting into the ring. Conversation among the locals stopped as their attention became focused on the cattle and the auctioneer's chant.

"Aren't you in enemy territory?" My attention had been so focused inside the ring that I didn't notice an old cow buyer move into the seat next to me. His gruff voice in my ear gave me a start, but I tried to recover by answering quickly.

"You must be referring to my editorials this spring," I said. Mr. Cow Buyer is someone I remembered from my youth. He had some business dealings with my father years ago, but I didn't expect him to remember me.

"Just some light reading. But it makes a good fire starter," he said as he watched the auctioneer sell a small group of red steers. "I suppose your next column will tell us how we're all better off now that LMA didn't get enough signatures to force a recall vote on the checkoff."

It was obvious he was trying to have a little fun, maybe break up the routine of what was just another day at work for him. I decided to play along.

"Nope," I said. "I'm not writing about anything controversial. I'll only support or oppose things that we can all agree upon."

My answer seemed to throw him off for a while-at least I imagined it did. He sat in silence for nearly a quarter-hour, bidding on groups of cattle that fit his orders and spitting tobacco in a plastic cup. His attention turned back to me when a group of dairy calves came into the ring for which he had no interest.
"Cattlemen can't agree on nuthin'," he said. "Every calf that's run through here today has got different genetics and been managed different. The only thing cattlemen can agree on is black hide color, and we cain't eat that."

I liked what I was hearing, but I still wasn't sure whether Mr. Cow Buyer agreed with my editorials or disagreed with them.

"I think I'll favor rain in July," I said.

"Wait 'til I get my hay up," he said.

"I could always oppose hurricanes," I said as I stared at the auction ring.
He spit in his cup again and said, "Hurricanes can be tough on those folks down on the coast, but they can be drought breakers up here on the Plains."

I could see I wasn't going to win this argument with a weather scenario. I was about to switch to insects or reptiles when he tipped his hand.

"Nuthin' in agriculture is working right now. But I believe beef's got a bright future if we start giving Mrs. Consumer what she wants. We need to keep our checkoff to help do that, but a lot of these folks out here don't believe that, especially when cattle prices are down."

Trying not to show that I was relieved to discover his views were similar to mine, I said, "I think I'll take a firm stand against ticks and snakes in my next column."

My comfort level didn't last long, however. "By the way," he said, "the auction owner wants you to know he can't be responsible for your safety here."