As the tributes pour in for the livestock auctioneering legend David Tomlinson, aged 73, (who was recently killed in a farm accident) I am reminded of how fabulous the sight and sound of a great auctioneer can be.
Mr Tomlinson worked for Harrison and Hetherington for 57 years and although I never saw him in action I remember a cattle-breeding friend of mine waxing lyrical about his abilities.
It is an auctioneer’s job to create a positive upbeat atmosphere around a ring and to find the right balance between representing the interests of clients (the vendors) while also keeping bidders enthusiastic.
For this to be possible the auctioneer must know the true value of the livestock that are for sale – to the last penny. Only then will buyers know that they cannot hope to steal a bargain by conspiring to make low bids. If an auctioneer has a firm understanding of the value of the animals for sale then such shenanigans on the part of buyers are prevented and the pace and positive rhythm of selling maintained.
An auctioneer’s sales patter is also important. When an auctioneer makes an observation about the quality of whatever animal is in the ring those remarks must ring true. If all this can be delivered in a clear and confident tone with a rapid calling of the bids only then, and only then, can the full attention and respect of everyone present be guaranteed.
I recently asked an auctioneer to find me an emergency replacement pedigree Sussex bull because mine had strained a leg. As I anticipated, he put in a lot of work, including phoning the Sussex cattle society.
But no sooner had he found a replacement than my own bull recovered. Knowing that he’d dedicated a lot of time and effort to the search, I offered to pay for his time. “I don’t think that will be necessary, Stephen”, he replied “you’ve been pretty loyal to me over the years”.
He is right about my loyalty but it’s based purely on self-interest rather than sentiment. He was recommended to me by a sheep farming relative when I had my first group of store lambs to sell 40 years ago. The sheep were a mixed bunch (which is a polite way of putting it) but when I got them to market they were quickly sorted into pens with the best lambs first.
An hour later the auctioneer was walking the planks above the sheep pens and rattling through the lots at breakneck speed. When he got to my head pen he quickly knocked them down and then bellowed at the buyer “What a bargain! All from the same home – will you stand on with the lot?!” To which the surprised buyer quickly nodded, thereby agreeing to take all of my sheep at the same price.
As the auctioneer strode past my sheep to continue the sale he gave me a lightning quick nod and smile. Like I say, there is nothing to be beat the sight and sound of a great auctioneer at work.