More than 20 years ago my new bride, Carla, and I bought a Simmental heifer at the National Simmental Heifer Sale at the North American Livestock Exposition in Louisville Kentucky. It concluded last week after two weeks of intense competition in nearly all species of livestock imaginable both in the show ring and in the sale ring.
When we bought a heifer, the sale ring was set up in a corner of the big, then drafty west wing at the Kentucky Exposition Center. We sat on bleachers. My wife was the beef expert. I wasn't sure this was the best thing to do - spend money on a beef heifer when we only had three acres at home, but she grew up showing beef cattle and couldn't wait to hit some open shows. The auctioneer and breed manager told how great each one was - they're all great when they're coming into a sale ring, no matter what a judge might say about them in a show ring.
We bought one for the average selling heifers, paying about $700. Still a lot of money today for a family of four children, it was certainly a lot of money for a young couple starting out back then. I worried all the way home if we should have spent the money or not. In fact, I worried so much I gave myself a headache I remember to this day.
Contrast that to the next beef sale I attended, during the middle Sunday of the NAILE show. Friends were interested in purchasing a Shorthorn heifer for their daughter to show, so I tagged along. This time the sale was in New Market Arena, a large, well lit, nicely kept show ring, used primarily for livestock sales. As the room filled, I became intimidated. Some 200 people filled the bleachers, many wearing big cowboy hats. A former dairy kid who now helps his kids with sheep and goats felt just a little out of place. But I didn't' feel nervous at least - I wasn't going to buy one, so it wasn't big headache time.
When the auctioneer and breed manager starting talking, I felt a lot out of place. They started the sale not by talking about how great the animals were, but instead about how many eggs you could flush from these heifers, using them as donor cows. So someone just wanting a heifer to show was competing against ranchers and cattlemen from all over the country in the business to make money. And the heifer show person was competing against people who wanted to flush the heifer and sell eggs. They even sold three eggs from the top-selling heifers mother, while she still stood in the ring. That's because the embryos were produced from sexed semen, and would be heifers. Since the mother was bred to the same bull that produced the top seller in the ring, whoever purchased these embryos and implanted them into a recipient cow would have a shot at getting a full sister to the sharp looking female standing there before us.
The prices were a bit intimidating too- $8,000, $6,500, $5,200. I only saw one heifer sell for less than $2,000.
Fancy pigs and well-bred sheep aren't cheaper either. But many don't sell as high as these heifers. And the people showing them don't usually wear big, intimidating cowboy hats!