Champion livestock auctioneer says there's more to his title than just a quick tongue

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August 7, 2011 - 7:00pm

On a hot, sticky night at the Holton Livestock Exchange in Holton, Kan., the ceiling fans are working overtime to keep the air moving as dozens of cattle and people take stock of each other.

But auctioneer Charly Cummings is the center of attention. He is, after all, the World Livestock Auctioneer Champion.

"What I use in my chant a lot is one, make it one, bid it on now, two.' And it just kind of rolls from there," he said, trying to explain what makes him successful.

Photo by Eric Durban, Harvest Public Media

World Livestock Auctioneer Champion Charly Cummings works an auction at the Holton Livestock Exchange in Holton, Kan.

Photo by Eric Durban, Harvest Public Media

World Livestock Auctioneer Champion Charly Cummings shows off his first-place belt buckle.

Cummings, of Yates Center in southeast Kansas, beat out 32 other contestants for the world title, which has been handed out every year since 1963 by the Livestock Marketing Association. Although Kansas typically houses a couple million head of cattle, Cummings is only the third champion from the Sunflower State.

Cummings sips lemon water and avoids tobacco to keep his voice strong, but there's more to his title than just a quick tongue.

"A good auctioneer at a livestock market is one that knows what it is to represent the cattle, because you're representing one man's livelihood," Cummings said. "He needs to know the market from week to week and needs to know what the cattle are worth."

There are roughly 900 livestock auction houses nationwide, according the livestock association. And although buying and selling cattle and other livestock is the driving force of the events, they also provide a chance for people to chat up neighbors and swap stories.

So a good rapport with the crowd is an important part of the auctioneer's job. Being a world champion is a bonus.

The Holton appearance in July was Cummings' first since winning the championship in late June.

Cummings sits perched in front of a small corral where more than 1,300 cattle will be sold over the course of the evening. Following some applause and a quick introduction, he got right to business selling cattle.

Dressed up in khaki pants, white button down shirt, tie, cowboy hat, and champion belt buckle, Cummings is right at home in the arena. He talks fast to a jeans-wearing group who bid with barely a tip of the hand. The action moves quick as spotters yell out bids.

"When I first started out I can remember one guy who said now every time I shake my cigarette I'm bidding," Cummings said of his early experiences in auctioneering.

Auctioneering was introduced to Cummings at an early age by his uncle, and he's worked to hone his craft ever since, even attending the World Wide College of Auctioneering in Mason City, Iowa. He credits the schooling for helping him develop a chanting style that works for him. "I like to think my style is one that anybody can relate to," he said. "My uncle always taught me at a young age that if they don't know where you're at and don't know what you're asking for, then they're not going to bid."

He said he once sat down to a livestock auction at 9:30 p.m. and didn't get off the microphone until 1:45 a.m.

The Livestock Marketing Association's annual championship includes an interview and actual livestock sale where contestants are judged on several levels, including voice quality, bid-catching ability and conduct.

This was Cummings' fourth time competing. In 2008, he was named the rookie of the year in the competition, and he said maturing over those four years played a big part in his success.

"Now that it's kind of soaked in for me a little bit, the easiest way for me to describe it, it's like a lifetime goal and an honor," he said. "Now it's going to be important for me to carry it out and live it."

For the next year, Cummings will travel around the country in a new championship-issued pickup truck visiting sale barns and promoting the auction method of selling.



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