Friday, 19 September 2014

The sights, sounds and smells of a cattle sale

On approach to the Tamworth Regional Livestock Exchange, two things struck me: the noise and the smell. Perhaps the volume is similar to the other kind of stock exchange but the sounds and the smells are probably quite different. Here the smell is the earthy smell of animal sweat, manure and dirt.

Anyone got a spare hat?
Copyright 2014 divacultura
Going to a cattle sale was a new experience and I was pleased to have the opportunity. It immediately proved a good decision that I had swapped my new silver casual shoes for a pair of my brother's boots. They were a size too big but I would have been even more obviously alien in the crowd in my ridiculously urban shoes. With my hair in a pony tail, a cap on my head and clad in a pair of jeans, I was receiving some enquiring looks. I certainly looked nothing like the rest of the people there. For one, they were male. I'm not. I was wearing the wrong kind of hat. My eyes didn't have the right appraising glint as I surveyed the pens of cattle.

I was careful not to fall into a pen; it was a special female sale today and I didn't want to find out how much I would fetch.

Auctioneers busy at their work.
Copyright 2014 divacultura
The cattle are contained in rows and rows of pens with concreted alley ways in between for the buyers, sellers, agents and other people. Tags of various colours tell the story of how old they are or whether the cows might be in calf. The auctioneers walk on a gangway elevated above the pens. They stop at each pen and say a bit about the animals in the pen that's about to be sold. The auctioneer is flanked by several men in big hats who identify the bidders in the crowd. A woman is nearby carrying a big stick that she holds over the pen being auctioned. I learned that this is a scanner which takes the details of the national livestock identification tags in the ears of the cattle. This enables each animal to be traced from its birth and is important for ensuring the safety of meat.

There are several auctioneers. They wear the uniform of jeans, pale blue collared shirt and very big, light coloured hat. They are amplified by a Madonna-style microphone and portable speaker which they either wear on their belt or is carried by another person. Some of them aren't amplified at all. They talk quickly as they explain what's for sale and then they accelerate as they search for the first bid. Their diaphragms work hard to ensure they have enough breath. Eyes are watchful, ears pricked and somehow, above all the noise of the people and the livestock, purchase after purchase is made and the crowd moves to the next pen. It's exciting to see all these people at their work.

Just looking at the crowd, it's hard to see who might be a buyer looking for the lowest price they can get and who might be a seller hoping their animals will sell for enough to make some money, or at least, not make a loss. I think I see a glimpse of disappointment in the eyes of one rural man.

As I'm standing with my brother, asking all my questions so I can understand what's happening, a woman comes over and asks if she can take our photograph. She's doing publicity for the sales and we will feature in the sale highlights. I didn't expect to make the social pages of the local cattle sale, but there's a first time for everything. My brother is pleased because it will further raise his profile as a local veterinarian.

As we leave, the noise and smells recede. I look at my dusty feet, pleased that I'm not in my silver shoes. We go to the Sushi Train for lunch and I feel as if I've returned to more familiar territory. As I eat some beef, I wonder where it came from.

Here's what it sounds like:

Awaiting their fate
Copyright 2014 divacultura

Through the rails
Copyright 2014 divacultura

More hat than kid.
Copyright 2014 divacultura

No comments:

Post a Comment