Last week, I told my 3-year old daughter she could pick something special to do in town. Daddy was out of town and I wanted to make the morning a fun, girls only adventure. The park? The museum? Go exploring in a wildlife habitat area? The choice was hers.
She chose the sale barn.
Torrington Livestock Auction is one of the few remaining livestock auction houses in our state. It’s the place where area ranchers take their cattle to sell to folks like other area ranchers or feedlot buyers. Most animals that go through a sale barn are cattle, but occasionally a sale barn will feature lambs, hogs, goats or even horses.
To be clear, we are not in the market to buy a cow. Or sell a cow. But Wyokiddo loves cows. I mean, she LOVES cows. I thought a trip to the sale barn to see some would make her day.
So that was how we again came to spend our Friday morning surrounded by animals we have no intention of owning. Ten minutes in and she fell in love.
For two hours, the two of us sat high in the rafters and watched cattle. As each lot that came in, my little girl would count the animals, assess the sex and declare whether or not she would buy them. I never could figure out what criteria she was using to determine their suitability for her future herd. But each time, Wyokiddo would clutch the arms of her seat, scrunch up her little face and mull over the possibilities. Soon she would proclaim “I’d buy these cows.” Or, if they weren’t up to snuff, she’d say, very seriously, “I don’t think I need these ones.”
We got some curious looks from the old guard. I was dressed jeans and a t-shirt. The kid has chosen black leggings and pink cowboy boots for the occasion. Clearly, we were not regulars. But when a serious buyer would venture a quizzical gaze our way, Wyokiddo would catch his eye, smile and wave. It was fun watching grizzled old ranchers who pride themselves on non-reaction break into a giant smile at the curly-haired dynamo’s enthusiasm.
An hour and a half in to our sojourn, my little cowgirl looked over at me, all seriousness and concentration. “I love this place, Mama.”
I squeezed her hand and whispered back “I know.”
There has always been something magical about the sale barn. Any sale barn. From the first time I set foot in one as a kid, I felt that magic. Because it’s not just a place to sell livestock. Sale barns are a virtual epi-center of the agriculture world. It is a gathering place. A community within a community.
And our new wonder is no exception. In a world that is driven by technology and the latest and greatest, the sale barn is delightfully retro. The color scheme of red, white and blue is circa 1970. Two phone booths anchor each side of the seating. The theatre style chairs are threadbare and small. It smells like a barn. It’s loud and busy. But the coffee is always hot, the folks are always friendly and the weather is always a major topic of conversation. If not for the large television screen above the auctioneer that posts lot weights and prices, you couldn’t discern the sale barns of today from those of 1994 or 1974.
There is something comfortable and homey about the sale barn. It’s those old, familiar smells of manure and feed and ridiculously unhealthy nachos. It’s the lulling cadence of the auctioneer’s chant as he tries to eek out another few cents per hundred weight. I love that baggy sweatshirts, ball caps and sweat-stained cowboy hats are the dress code. And that the faces are new, but the people don’t change. Two, sometimes even three generations sit shoulder to shoulder and continue the tradition of raising cattle. Maybe it’s just the sheer predictability of it all. The auctioneer will chant, a buyer will buy, more cows will move through the ring, and the process starts all over again. Life marches on.
Someday, the novelty of sitting next to me and watching an endless parade of livestock pass through the ring might wear off for Wyokiddo. She will grow up and move on to Barbies and iPhones and (sigh) boys.
But for now, I will take it. I will sit with her in my lap for hours on end and watch cows. I will explain breeds and answer approximately sixteen questions a minute about why some cows have white faces or why bulls have those big humps behind their necks or what polar bears dream about. Because the sale barn isn’t just selling cattle. It’s a place selling memories of time spent with my beautiful little daughter and those are worth their weight in gold. Or beef.