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Lee Pitts is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email them at

This COVID thing sure has messed things up, including taking the action out of many auctions. As a result of the China flu, many purebred bull breeders just had internet auctions instead of traditional bull sales, and I hope this is not a permanent state of affairs. Before you know it, they’ll make their sales electronic auctions and get rid of the auctioneer entirely, and you’ll be forced to buy your bulls on eBay.

I know internet sales make some sense economically, no bulls get hurt, and no one gets dirty, but where else but a real bull sale are you going to see other ranchers from such a wide area, drink free beer and eat free steak, swat flies that are interpreted as bids by the auctioneer, get hit with projectile manure and get something for nodding?

I suppose I should be the last to complain; after all, for 20 years, I was the announcer and a very small shareholder in one of the first video sale auctions where we sold cattle in load lots. It’s a great way to sell cattle, and buyers can get a lot of business done while eating free food and drinking free drinks, but beauty is in the eye of the beer holder. I know sale barns still have big runs of yearlings and calves, but a little part of me misses seeing all the big ads for dozens of off-the-grass specials and watching ring man Tommy run over the backs of mobs of yearlings trying to get them out the gate while catching a bid or two at the same time.

Already many breeders have taken the first step in taking the bull out of the bull sale. Instead of running the cattle through a sale ring, they show pictures of them, so no one dumb enough to sit on the front row gets shavings in their coffee or recycled alfalfa on their clothes. As a ring man for 40 years with my back-to-the-sale ring, I never wore out my clothes on the front, just the back from being pelted with shavings and gooey stuff. I’ll never forget the day when a big wig in the business, who was a very fastidious dresser, got squirted by a fire hose of manure and much of it lodged in the crease of his silver belly Stetson so for the rest of the sale; he sat very still because if he moved even a smidgen, the lake of stuff would overflow and would drip, drip, drip down the front of his hat. You won’t see that at a bull-less auction.


Then there was the time a bull decided to join the auctioneer and clerk on the auction block and got stuck. Although my memory is failing me, I’ll never forget the time the auctioneer fell over backwards off the block, but he never missed calling the bid. And invariably, when we couldn’t get a bid on the bull in the ring and let another bull in, the buyer picked the inferior bull half the time. And the second bull often brought more money!

Looking back, there were some situations that could have been very dangerous, like the time a Longhorn bull at a sale in Elko, Nevada, lifted up the sale ring, climbed underneath, knocked over a section of bleachers, and was fixing to shish kabob somebody when a smart person opened the door and let the bull out who was last seen headed east on I 80 headed for Chicago. I don’t know what it is about Nevada, but it was also there where a Hereford bull busted his way out of the ring and sent everyone scurrying for cover. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fellow at John Wayne’s bull sale every year who waved a huge American flag when he wanted to bid. I didn’t know whether to take his bid or salute and bust out singing our national anthem.

The zenith of my career as a ring man had to be the time a man and wife got into an argument over his selection of bulls and the amount he was willing to spend. After several such altercations heard by everyone in the sale barn, she finally slapped him and left. For good, I was later told.