Teach Me Tuesday: Sale Barns

So the last 2 weekends in our house have been spend at Chester Livestock Exchange for special sales.  Really that isn't unusual for someone in our household to spend at least two days a week at the sale barn, since my husband is the barn manager there, however lil man & I don't typically hit up the sale barn during a normal week.  Wyatt loves to go and watch his daddy sort cows, watch the auction and unfortunately try to bid on a few head while we are there.  Since I know some of you may have never seen a sale barn at work I thought I would give you a little tour and explain something that you may or may not know.  

Behind the sales ring is a maze of alleyways and pens.  Pens are numbers and cows are sorted based on a variety of traits.  Depending on the sale it could be type i.e. a steer (castrated male) a heifer (a young female ) cow (a female that has had a calf and bull (intact male) or it could be by weight, color, or seller.  During a typical sale during the week cows are weighed as they enter the ring this allows the buyers (most who are purchasing cows to use as beef) to know how much cow they are buying...its kinda important because you are buying by the pound.  So $1 doesn't sound like a lot but if it's a 1,600 lb cow that equals $1600 which could make quite a dent in your pocketbook.  

The pens are used to hold the cattle until the are ready to be sold.  Cows have access to water and hay prior to sale time.  In the picture above William is sorting cows and calves.  The goal is to get all the cows in one pen and the calves in another.  

This is done to make it easier to match up the correct cow and calf prior to entering the ring.  It's important when you are selling pairs (cow and calf together) to make sure you have the right calf and cow.  

This is the side of the barn most people see...the sales ring.  Cows come in one side and leave on the other.  Wyatt likes to be as close as he can to the sales ring.  According to him it gets him a better view of the cows and the auctioneer can see him better when he wants to bid!  (FYI he's not allowed to bid but try to tell him that).    

This is the crowd from Saturday's special sale.  This sale was a good many cow/calf pairs, bred cows and heifers and some open cows/heifers.  Open means that the cow isn't going to have a calf in the next 9 months.  Most of the time these cows are sold for hamburger meat.  

You can barely see the cow and her calf in the ring in this picture.  But they enter the ring together on the one side of the ring and exit on the opposite.  The guys working the ring do their best to keep the cows calm.  The auctioneer assist them in getting the cows out of the ring quickly.  The sales ring is a new place for the cows and some become agitated quickly.  It is safer for the cows and the people for them to remain as calm as possible.  An auctioneer that requires an animal to stay in the ring too long risk causing injury to the ring workers and the animal.  Most livestock auctioneers do a great job of only allowing the animal in the right for a minute or two.  

Wyatt is being a spy!

Cows and calves waiting in pens out back for their turn in the ring.  That yellow box looking thing in the back ground is an automatic waterer.  This allows the cows and calves to always have access to clean, fresh water.  You can also see that the cows are laying in the remainder of the hay that they were fed.  Pens at a sale barn are cleaned often to ensure the health of all the animals who enter them.  

The newest calf...this calf was actually born at the sale barn the night prior to the sale.  

Wyatt has spotted the newborn calf and realizes that it doesn't know the rule of the game yet.

Note that as Wyatt goes to pet the calf the other calf gets out of the way...he knows the drill

Wyatt spent a good 10 minutes petting the calf

Its amazing at 4 he has learned that you have to be slow and gentle with a calf if you want to touch it.  Hollering and running won't help you get close to a calf or a cow.  Wyatt has learned this by watching our family work cows.  My husband is one of the calmest, quietest people I know.  He learned early in life to "read" a cow and knows how to approach them to make them move.  This method is much better for the cows because they remain calm and much safer for William because calm cows rarely attack.  And yes cows will attack you!

I think he has a new friend.

This was Wyatt's favorite cow of the day...please note that this cow has ear...which means there is some Brahman influence in her.  All of these cows are open which means they aren't going to have a calf.

Most all sale barns I have ever been to have a catwalk which allows buyers to walk over the top of the pens to view the cattle.  During the weekly sale this is much safer option that the alleys.  

Santa Gerturdis Cow/calf pair in the ring

After the sale is complete the buyers bring their trucks to the loading area.  The loading area has chutes and alleys to help move the cows calmly from pens to the trailers.  The loading area also has a lift so that the cows walk up a gently incline to get on the trailer instead of having to jump up.  

Loading alley

As each trailer pulls in the driver gives William a slip of paper called a load slip.  This slip has information about who bought what cows.  It is important that people get the cows they purchase.  After all the cows are loaded on a trailer William compares the load slip to what's on the trailer just to double check everything is correct before letting the buyer leave.  

I hope this gives you a better idea of what goes on behind the scenes at a livestock sale barn.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact me or leave them in the comment section.  

Until next time--


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  1. Found your blog via Rural Women Rock! Loved this post! You have gained a fan!

    1. Elizabeth thanks so much!! I really appreciate that! I hope that you have a great day!