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Life at the sale barn

By Staff | Apr 17, 2015

I read with interest the other day about a sale barn in Rock Island, Illinois that had closed. It made me a little sad because sale barns have long been places where dreams are made.

Buyers and sellers come together, friends are made and farmers gather as neighbors and colleagues to watch their, or someone else’s, animals go through the sale ring.

I had the pleasure of watching our sons’ calves sell not long ago at our local sale barn. They went focused solely on their calves and what they would bring, sitting in the stands a little nervously, calculating and hoping they would receive fair reimbursement for a year’s work.

The sale barn is a place where friends meet and jokes are shared among new and old acquaintances, no matter what the ag climate is.

After all, they don’t do it just for the money. I heard this one from a new friend I made there: “A sermon should be like a woman’s skirt – long enough to cover the necessities and short enough to keep your interest.”

The joke came from a man who later told me his father was able to cling to 240 acres of farm land and raise eight children through the Great Depression by making and selling whiskey on the side.

It was interesting to hear about the creative genius of farmers, who love their land and will do what they have to in order to pass it down to their children someday.

It’s a place where the brotherhood of farming knows no age limits – as young producers sit among the more experienced ones, listening to their jokes and stories and always, learning from them.

At this sale, one man brought his dog along. Apparently, a farmer and his dog truly are inseparable, working closely together in all aspects of the cattle business.

Farmers come in coveralls and manure-covered boots. It’s a sale barn, after all; everyone knows what they do for a living and no one expects them to look manicured.

Or clean.

The smell of wood chips fills the air, the auctioneer begins his rhythmic call and eyes are scanning the crowd. There are maybe as many hopes as there are disappointments, as buyers and sellers have different “fair” prices in mind for what they hope to accomplish.

The gates swing open to let the animals in and it’s 100 percent focus as phones come out and calculators work quickly. Those helping the auctioneer are also focused on the crowd.

We hear the loud and familiar “Yep!” as bidders are acknowledged. I once sneezed and thought I would be taking home animals I never intended to have.

I’m not sure, but in all honestly I may be more of a menace than not to my husband in a place like that.

Some of the calves are sassy and kick their heels up. The first time I saw one fall down in the ring I knew what she felt like.

I almost did that at my eighth grade graduation, too, when I forgot to lift up the front of my floor-length dress as I climbed the steps to the gym stage.

Poor calf-oh, the embarrassment of it all. At least I had a dress to blame it on.

From a woman’s perspective, it was a great place to spend the afternoon surrounded by farmers and their unique senses of humor, experiencing their positive attitudes simply because they love what they do; making new friends, seeing old friends, catching up on life and best of all-no waiting in line at the ladies’ room.

That’s right-be jealous, my guy farmer friends.

The local sale barn and area hog-buying stations gave our family many memories that we will keep – some happy, some bittersweet and some even heart-wrenching as we watched the hog market decline in the 1990s.

But those experiences defined us as a farm family, and we’re still in it today. I hope there are places like that around by the time our children have children and can build those kinds of memories together.

It’s a kind of bonding that can’t even be done around the dinner table.

It’s actually pretty macho stuff, even for us ladies of the farm.

Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at kschwaller@evertek.net and at www.karenschwaller.com.

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