Comedy Stories

The Auctioneer

“Never lie to cows. You act like you gonna feed ‘em—then feed ‘em.”

Irritated by her father’s reprimand, Kelsey rolled her eyes, exhaling in a huff that materialized into soft clouds in the winter morning air. She wanted to kick the icy water trough on her way out of the barn, knocking it over to scare the chickens that picked at everything. Instead, she finished pitching hay and filling plastic buckets of grain.

The Hereford cattle seemed to notice Kelsey was out of sorts, but their stomachs overruled their reluctance to approach her. Soon, they were nose down in the feeder. Her heart softened, seeing the cows’ huge eyes and wooly faces—each with its own distinctive markings and personality. She’d cared for the cows since kindergarten, marveling at their dark red hides, their white faces, crests, and underlines.

In middle school, she’d learned how to birth a calf. In high school, she’d learned how to butcher a cow. She planned to be the first in her family to attend college. Yet in her hearts, she really wanted to become a livestock auctioneer.

She had spoken to her father about that particular topic in the blue-black hours before dawn.

“I’m going to apply to the Western College of Auctioneering in Bozeman, Montana.”

“Why?” her dad asked, incredulous at her leaving Virginia. It was bad enough that she had been applying to agricultural programs—making him pay professors to teach her things she already knew.

“I’ve decided to become a bid caller. I want to train with the best chanters in the country.”

“They’ll never let you chant, Kelsey. You’ll be stuck as an auction assistant, filling out paperwork and reading VDACS reports,” her father warned her. “Auctioneering is a man’s world. Always has been. Always will be.”

“Things change,” Kelsey protested.

“They don’t change that much. Not at the livestock exchange. You ever seen a female auctioneer? All the time we go—you ever seen one? Being a female auctioneer is about as likely as a female livestock driver. So unless you can chew tobacco, cuss like a sumbitch, and scratch your crotch—preferably all at the same time—save your money. Montana’s not the place for you. The livestock exchanges ain’t either. They ain’t gonna have no part of you at cattle auctions—no part that you want to give.”

Kelsey stomped into the mud room and kicked off her boots, covered in hay, frost, and mud. Clenching her fists, she swallowed hard a few times to choke back her angry tears. Then dutifully, she finished getting ready for school.

The school bus promptly came at 6:30 a.m., rain or shine.

By then, she’d already been up for two hours.

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Her friends from town liked to come to the farm on occasion, but the internet connection was intermittent at best. With cell phones struggling for every bar, her friends never stayed very long—but they did like seeing the animals close up.

“Omigod, what do we do?” they giggled. The cows looked back at the pack of girls, their curiosity piqued.

“Move slowly, talk quietly, and stay clear of the electric fence,” Kelsey replied.

“If we touch it, will we die? I don’t want to get tased by your fence!”

“The fence won’t kill you,” Kelsey laughed. “It will curl your hair though.”

That’s what her father had told her when he first took her out on the tractor. He’d sat her on his lap and let her turn the steering wheel, a heady feeling for a five-year-old.

Don’t touch the fence, Kelsey-Belsey. It’ll curl your hair. 

“Are you sleeping over at Jamie’s house after the homecoming dance? Everyone’s going.”

“I can’t make it,” Kelsey frowned.

She had quit making up excuses when her friends invited her to do things on the weekends. The animals needed to be fed twice a day, regardless of the season.

“C’mon, Kels. It’ll be fun.”

“The animals don’t get days off,” she said matter-of-factly, “and neither do I.”

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“I’m at a dollar an-I-want a dollar fifty—dollar fifty—bid on a dollar fifty. I’m at dollar fify—would-a-you go two dollar…”

Kelsey mouthed the rapid-fire, quick-cadence combinations of numbers, words and sounds. She replayed the YouTube clip again, listening to the contestants spout their distinctive chants at the Young Cattle Auctioneer Championship in Turlock, California.

“Three dollar bid—now three—now three—will ya give me three fifty—three fifty bid—now four—now four—will ya give me four?”


The school bus had a mobile hotspot, which made doing homework on the 45-minute commute possible. Kelsey worked on her precalculus problems using a new AI algorithm since the long term substitute teacher at her rural high school knew precious little math. She used Google translate to finish her AP French homework and ChatGPT to write a comparative essay on two novels she’d never read.

It was on her daily commute to and from school where she had time to work on her college applications, writing first-person narratives about “being resilient” with both thumbs on her cell phone. She compared state college degree programs, SAT/ACT requirements, and financial aid packages.

As it stood, she was leaning toward Virginia Tech, which offered several agricultural degrees, from life sciences to  natural resources to biological sciences. While she read through a sea of possibilities, she became disheartened to see no mention of auctioneering—not even as a certification program.

Perhaps her father was right. As a 9th generation farmer and 1st generation college student, Kelsey should stick to agribusiness. Hadn’t the Future Farmers of America trained her for those fields—to work better in the fields?

She looked at her cell phone. Twenty more minutes left on the bus. Then she’d have to sit through six hours of school and the long bus ride home before doing her evening chores. With homework and dishes, if she were lucky, she’d be in bed by 11:00 p.m.

Looking out the window over the gently rolling hills, she lost herself in a reverie. While the miles flew by, she silently recited one of her favorite tongue twisters that professional auctioneers used to warm up: Betty Botter bought some butter, but she said this batter’s bitter. So she bought a bit of better butter and put it in her bitter batter which made her bitter batter better. Betty Botter bought some butter…

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“You need help loading up?” the manager of the feed store called out after them. Business was brisk in the spring, and the parking lot was full of trucks, backing in to load feed and fertilizer.

“No, we’re good. Kelsey and I can get it,” her father replied, dragging another 50-pound sack to the back of their late-model pickup truck. Kelsey easily wrestled another bag right behind him.

She noted something dark flash across her father’s eyes whenever someone asked him if he needed help. Would they have asked a man with sons? Surely Kelsey had proven herself more capable than a dozen sons.

Everyone in town knew her. At school, her teachers couldn’t write enough letters of recommendation. At church, she had been selected to be the youth group leader. In the community, she organized fundraisers for the local 4-H chapter—BBQ dinners and corn hole competitions and pie-eating contests.

She’d even served as Virginia Hereford Queen, walking through show barns in her long skirt, flowy blouse, blazer, and crown. “You’re such a pretty little thing,” the cattlemen would say, dismissively, as if her wearing a sash made her any less capable of showing cattle. In full regalia, Kelsey would always stop to talk to starry-eyed little girls at the shows, letting them try on her crown. She told them how wonderful it was to be a part of the cattle trade and that there was a place for them, too.

Her father was silent on the drive back to the farm. The roadway curved, rose, and fell through the grassy hills and valleys.

“Guess what?” she asked.


“I said, guess what?”

“Chicken butt.” He gave her the reply she wanted, making them both giggle like middle schoolers. It was their oldest private joke.



“I’m going to be the high school salutatorian.”

“Woohoo!” Her father took off his cowboy hat, waving it out the window, whooping loudly and honking the horn. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all day, Kelsey.”

“Johnny Nichols is the valedictorian.”

“Johnny Nichols’ father is a low life and his mother is two steps up from being a truckstop whore.”

“Dad!” Kelsey exclaimed.

“Well, don’t tell Johnny I said that. It’s true, though.”

Kelsey put her hands over her mouth, but couldn’t stop herself from laughing.

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May 1st approached faster than Kelsey thought possible. How would she ever be able to make a decision? 

“Well, Kelsey-Belsey,” her father sighed, sorting through the multicolored envelopes, both large and small. “Looks like every college you applied to wants to take my money.”

She put her hands on her hips and frowned at him. “Dad, there are some substantial scholarship offers. You aren’t going to the poor house yet.”

Yet,” he muttered, looking at the spreadsheet she’d put together.

“With a Pell Grant, I think Tech is doable. If not, I could go to community college for my associates degree, then transfer. But, agh! It’s so confusing!” Kelsey sat down and put her head in her hands.

“You sure you want to go to college?” her father asked, tentatively, sitting down at the dining room table with her.

“I do, dad.” Kelsey replied, putting her hand on his. “I really want to go. But tell me the truth—can we afford it?”

“Yeah, we can afford it, Kel. I just—I just thought you wanted to be an auctioneer. You know. Head off to Wyoming or Montana or some such…”

Kelsey grinned, understanding just then how much her father would miss her when she was gone.

“Dad, I’m a 9th generation Virginian farmer—not a 1st generation Wyoming one.”

“Well, maybe you can be a 1st generation auctioneer, too,” he said quietly, pulling out an envelope of his own. “I signed you up for a three-week course. All online. Starts in June.”


“You get that done—then we can drive down to Richmond to take your licensing test. After that, you can go off to college…and maybe chant at a cattle sale or two at the exchange.”

Kelsey threw her arms around her father.

“That sound good to you?” he asked, as she cried on his work shirt. “What do you say, Kelsey?”

“I say—five dollar bid, five dollars, now five fifty, now five fifty—will you go five fifty—going once, going twice, sold!”

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