PENDLETON, Ore. — The auctioneer is in Pendleton, Ore., describing a bull 30 miles down the road in Hermiston, while customers bid online from just about anywhere around the world.
Welcome to the 21st century of agricultural marketing, where technology is connecting livestock producers with buyers far beyond the local auction barn.
With video auctions now broadcast on the Internet and satellite television, ranchers can search far and wide for the right animal to add to their herd. Production companies assemble the footage and provide service that allows registered members to call or click to bid.
That's in addition to producers who choose to attend the auction in person. Rob Thomas, of Thomas Angus ranch in Baker City, watched as all markets converged on his most recent bull sale Feb. 14 at Hamley Steakhouse in Pendleton.
Thomas worked with Superior Productions, a company he's used for about eight years. This time, they did something a little different — they pre-recorded video of every bull sold, which played on monitors displayed throughout the Slickfork Saloon.
Video screens essentially replaced the auction ring, while the bulls remained back at Top Cut Feedlot just outside Hermiston. The benefit, Thomas said, is lowering stress on the animals and hosting the auction in a fun, unique venue.
Ringmen still paced the floor, relaying bids over the crowd noise back to auctioneer Trent Steward. Meanwhile, in the middle of the room, John Andras with Superior Productions fielded all bids phoned in to their Fort Worth, Texas studio.
The action happens fast and can be difficult to follow, but each of Thomas' 106 bulls are sold within a minute or two. Most went for several thousand dollars, though the top seller went for a whopping $15,000.
"It was tremendous," Thomas said. "The average was very good."
Thomas bought the entire herd of bulls last year from Lon and Sheri Wadekamper of LGW Ranch in Hermiston. Some auction-goers did turn out to see the animals up close and in person before the sale, watching as the beasts trotted calmly around their pens.
Disposition, along with strong genetics, are what ranchers look for in a bull, said Sheri Wadekamper. These animals represent 18 years of breeding, and Wadekamper is glad to see the genetic line continue in good hands.
"My method is to match each cow with a sire that will compliment or enhance her characteristics," she said. "We're trying to make an all-purpose bull."
While most of the bulls will stay in the Northwest, Thomas said one was sold to a ranch in Texas. The farthest he's ever sold cattle was to Russia.
Online bidding is becoming more commonplace, and makes it possible to reach out to a wider audience, he said.
"I think that's the way the industry is heading," he said.
Having the auction at Hamley was a great success, and likely to happen again, Thomas said. However, there is still a place for live showings with the animals present in the ring.
"I wouldn't like to have all my sales like this," he said. "I do like the nostalgia of having live cattle in the ring. It's a little more real in some ways, though this was an experience in itself."