Auctioneers toss words at the Calgary Stampede

Justin Gattey is a long, long way from Wall Street. But when Gattey starts work in the morning, he knows he’s not selling cows ...

The prestigious 24th annual International Livestock Auctioneer Championship attracts competitors from across North America vying for the title of Calgary Stampede champion.

Justin Gattey is a long, long way from Wall Street. But when Gattey starts work in the morning, he knows he’s not selling cows … he’s selling commodities.

“Livestock is a market, and it changes daily — prices and factors and trends,” says the auctioneer from Consort, who’s been a professional motormouth since 2005. “There’s a lot of thinking involved … a lot of different factors that make it interesting, and keep you on your toes.

“You have to follow the market, know what’s going on that day, keep up with the big picture. And I push myself to be better every time out there.”

Gattey, 27, was one of 10 finalists who warmed up their vocal cords for the Calgary Stampede’s 24th annual International Livestock Auctioneer Championship on, July 14. This year’s showdown began July 13 with the preliminary round at the Olds Auction Market, where all 24 hopefuls — hailing from as far away as California, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Illinois, and Australia — auctioned off seven drafts of cattle.

Brennin Jack, of Weyburn, Sask., is the first professional motormouth from the Land of Living Skies to win the Stampede’s International Livestock Auctioneer Championship. And the 22-year-old, who beat nine other finalists under the Big Top July 14 in the 24th annual Stampede showdown, is also the youngest champion in ILAC history.

Jack, however, is already a grizzled — and accomplished — veteran at this fast-talkin’ game.

“I started auctioneering when I was nine years old. Sold my first $1-million cattle sale in Kelvington when I was 12. Started auctioneering full-time two days after I graduated from high school,” said Jack following his victory. “Cattle are my life. Ask me about a truck, and I know where the gas goes in. That’s about it. But ask me about a cow, sheep, goat, pig, I’ll tell you more than you’ll ever want to know.”

The winner receives a cheque for $5,000, a custom-designed Stampede buckle, and a champion’s jacket sponsored by former event winners — as well as an automatic berth into the 2013 World Livestock Auctioneer Championship at Montgomery, Ala. The runner-up collects $1,000, third place takes $600, fourth place is worth $400, and the top rookie will take home a Stampede buckle.

Gattey was taking his fourth run at the Stampede auctioneers’ crown, considered one of the most prestigious in the industry. A graduate of the Western College of Auctioneers in Billings, Mont., Gattey primarily sells livestock, as well as heavy equipment and farm equipment, at Vold, Jones and Vold Auction in Ponoka, and the Viking Auction Mart.

He entered the International Livestock Auctioneer Championship on a roll, having won the Canadian championship last month at Stavely.

Also advancing to the championship final were Ross Annett of Brooks, Alta., Chuck Cozzitorto of Hilmar, Calif., Jay Romine of Mount Washington, Ky., Andrew McDowell of Vandalia, Ill., Brad Stenberg of Kronau, Sask., Dean Edge of Rimbey, Alta., Travis Rogers of Westlock, Alta., and Mike Nuss of Minatare, Neb.

Auctioneering runs in the family for Gattey; his grandfather Frank Gattey plied his trade in the Provost and Cereal area of east-central Alberta.

“We’re working for the producer. They have faith in us; they put their cattle in front of us to bring the best price possible,” says Gattey. “For a lot of producers, that’s their livelihood. That’s their income for the year. They rely on us to do the proper job on their behalf.”

The finalists were rated by a panel of judges who were looking for rhythm, clarity, voice control and intonation, appearance, mannerisms, deportment, repartee and timing, and livestock knowledge, as well as their ability to spot bids and conduct a sale.

“It’s all about clarity, about establishing a nice, easy rhythm,” says Greg Sanderson, who chairs the Stampede’s International Livestock Auctioneers committee. “And knowing the value of what you’re selling is key.”

With its history and its caliber of competition, the Stampede’s International Livestock Auctioneer Championship has become one of the foremost events of its kind in the world, alongside the World Livestock Auctioneer Championship held across the United States.

The Stampede’s auctioneer showdown is considered a one-and-done affair. While there are no rules technically restricting former winners from throwing their hats in the ring, the practice is actively discouraged.

“If you win, you can compete again a few years down the road,” notes Sanderson, “but after you’re the best, do you want to come back and finish in fifth place?”

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