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Published October 31, 2011, 05:30 AM

Minnesotan wins qualifying round for World Livestock Auctioneer title

DICKINSON, N.D. — There is a fascination with the auctioneers — their mesmerizing, commanding song-like chants, the hand motions that beckon the bids that make the livestock world go ’round. The business is important wherever there are cattle, but especially important in cow-calf country in the Great Plains.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

DICKINSON, N.D. — There is a fascination with the auctioneers — their mesmerizing, commanding song-like chants, the hand motions that beckon the bids that make the livestock world go ’round. The business is important wherever there are cattle, but especially important in cow-calf country in the Great Plains.

The Livestock Marketing Association world championships are a kind of celebration of that talent and that purpose.

This year, Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange in Dickinson, N.D., was the site of one of the four quarterfinals being held across the nation — Kentucky, North Dakota, Colorado and Texas. Typically, quarterfinals start with 15 to 30 contestants — open-class, self-nominated entrants, each sponsored by the home livestock auction where they work. The entrants’ home auctions fall on different days of the week, so they attend a quarterfinal based on their home schedule.

Dickinson’s event drew 14 participants. The event produced three top qualifiers: Champion Mitch Barthel from New York Mills, Minn.; reserve Champion Tie Casey from Plymouth, Ind.; and runner-up Champion Andrew McDowell of Vandalia, Ill. Among the other eight finalists was Shane Wolff from Golden Valley, N.D. At this level, Barthel won a championship belt buckle and $500 prize. All eight qualifiers received commemorative jackets, sponsored by Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange.

The LMA described the Dickinson crop of entries as a “solid mix of rookie contenders and seasoned WLAC veterans. Contestants haled from Indiana, Oregon, Montana, Iowa, North Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina, Illinois, Nebraska, as well as Alberta and Saskatchewan. The group sat in a conference room, waiting for their turns — sometimes vocalizing, like a professional singer might.

The Dickinson event, staged Oct. 20, produced eight finalists who will move on to the world competition June 14 to 16, 2012, in Turlock, Calif. Making the selections at the quarterfinal were five judges — from North Dakota, Kansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Texas — accumulating 100 points each for a total of up to 500. The general criteria are based on such concepts as, “Would you hire this auctioneer?” or “Would this auctioneer make a good spokesperson?” They are judged on “bid catching” (or missing) and execution of the sale and the clarity of the chant/voice quality.

Each of the auctioneers had three groups of cattle to auction off. All thanked the North Dakota stockmen who provided the high quality of cattle. All thanked the Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange in Dickinson for providing its excellent facilities, its excellent staff, to make the event happen.

The next step

The next steps include a semifinals interview competition (live and with an audience), a semifinals and a finals competition at the Turlock Livestock Auction Yard. The competition is held in conjunction with the LMA’s annual convention, which moves around the country.

There, the 33 semifinalists (including a Canadian semifinalist) compete. Each is interviewed on livestock industry knowledge, in front of an audience, which accounts for 25 percent of their final score. They’ll then sell eight drafts of livestock in a live sale. Judges will pick 10 semifinalists. The semifinal score counts for 25 percent of the final score.

The winner receives a year’s use of a Champion’s Pickup, a Championship Ring, a $5,000 cash prize and a World Champion belt buckle. The 10 finalists each receive a belt buckle. Some get saddles.

“It opens up a lot of doors for the top two or three (national) contestants,” says Herb Richard from Fairfield, Texas, one of the committee members who supervise the event.

Richard says the LMA held its first world championship in 1963. The LMA notes that the first competition, at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Denver, where 23 contestants sold the same 20 head of cattle over and over again. In 1967, the competition moved to LMA member markets.

Recent national finals held in the region include 2009, Fergus Falls (Minn.) Livestock Auction Market; 2008 in Sioux Falls Regional Livestock in Worthing, S.D.; 2004, at Public Auction Yards in Billings, Mont.; and in 1997, Fort Pierre (S.D.) Livestock Auction.

The LMA sends the winners to livestock auctions and customer appreciation events all over the United States, Richard says. He says event in the past had been conducted by the judging of films that had been prepared of each contestant. The current form of the contest has been held about five years.

The competition is traditional Americana at its best — the prayer before the competition, asking God’s blessing, and a “fair price both for the rancher selling the cattle and the people who are buying cattle.”

On average, the sale at the Dickinson livestock sale barn was relatively high. Northern Plains cattlemen — compared with other parts of the country — are doing relatively well.

Calves averaging 550 pounds were bringing $1.45 to $1.60 per pound through the day. One rancher says most of the sellers probably were swelling at the highest level they’d ever sold.

The event was part business, part entertainment for an especially large crowd in the gallery. One contest-watcher was Dean Meyer of Dickinson, who had two grandsons in tow during a North Dakota Teachers Association school-out period. He says the relatively high prices and good grass years means many producers in the region have two or more years of feed on hand. The feed situation is significant, considering the drought that is gripping much of the southern Great Plains.

“What a great time to be in the livestock business,” said Bill Cook, a Billings, Mont., rancher and one of the contestants, as part of his turn at the microphone. A lot of cowboy hats in the audience seemed to be nodding in agreement.