Monday, December 17, 2007

Memories of the Rutland Cattle Sale

Waking up early in the morning on a cool fall day, I realize the day has finally arrived, the day of the cattle sale! Stumbling out of the house in jeans and my brown leather farm boots, I hop into my truck with the livestock trailer that I hitched up the night before. I am headed up the back roads of New York, a little bit into Massachusetts, and then into Vermont to the fairgrounds in Rutland.

I am accompanied by Henry, a farmer in his older years who has been farming for decades. While traveling he tells me how each place we passed “used to be.” I head over the mountains and am in awe of the wonderful trees that are changing colors. Then I finally get into the stop lights which means that we’re approaching the Rutland fairgrounds, but oops, there I’ve overshot the entrance once again. Then I look for the earliest place to turn around with the big truck and trailer. We then turn around and finally make it into the fairgrounds and park next to a 1980’s truck with an ancient gooseneck trailer that seems like it barely made it to the auction.

I am happy to be there. The smell of fresh manure and the sweet smell of hay seems to linger in the long lines of the cattle. From young calves with the sire and dam printed in the sale catalog I go down looking at each one picking out the ones that look best to me. While ambling down the aisle I run into the familiar face of a ninety year old man named Tom, who has been emceeing this event for decades.

After checking on the livestock and heading into the show arena, the hot dog truck has arrived and all the farmers head over to see what the ladies have prepared for us. I then walk over to the number counter and get my number so that I can bid in the auction. “Testing one, two, three,” I hear over the speaker. “Either a good check or cash will be accepted to pay for this wonderful lineup we have for you gentlemen today.” The auction then gets underway with the pedigree reader, Tom, starting off with a joke: “If the tail hangs to the right, that means it’s going to give birth to a girl.” Everyone chuckles and then the auctioneer starts off by saying, “Who will give me five thousand… liba, liba, liba,” the familiar sound of the tongue moving fast until the mallet pounds the table: “Sold for seven thousand!” The crowd now has gotten into the rhythm of things, and I look around at the people putting in bids – with either a gentle nod of the head or sudden flash of the sale catalog.

Then comes the heifer that I’ve been waiting for, the pedigree is read, and the auctioneer starts his rumbling mouth. My number goes up into the air to place my bid. I look around and I am competing with a guy in the back row with his front lip full of chewing tobacco as he spits onto the sawdust floor, nodding his head that he’s reached his ceiling. The auctioneer raises his voice, “SOLD to number thirty five,” and I feel a surge of achievement when he pounds his hammer to the table.

Next comes the cow that everyone has been drooling over since they got to the barn that morning. “This is the final cow in this fine lot that we have here today, her tail is hanging to the right, at the last test she produced ninety pounds of milk per day and she is a champ.” The crowd gets tense, people start to sweat and the auctioneer finally puts an end to the intensity by pounding his hammer and saying, “Thank you very much. Sold for ten thousand!” Then everyone drags their feet in the sawdust over to the checkout line where people pay for their fine purchases of the day. I load up my new heifer and hop into the cold truck with Henry.

As the truck heats up and the road opens up to the dark cool night, I am happy for the time I have spent once again on the journey to the “Cattle Sale.” - Luke Angell