As with everything these days, auctioneers are becoming specialists. It's not unusual to find an auctioneer who makes his or her living selling just one breed of livestock and they venture from their comfort zone at great personal risk.
A few years ago an auctioneer friend who is a one-breed specialist was asked to sell a high-grossing sale of a breed he'd previously seen only in magazines. Because of the potential big payoff he took the job and spent the next six months memorizing the breed publication so he wouldn't sound like an idiot on sale day. It didn't work.
It didn't help that the sale manager, who was supposed to be on the block to make pertinent comments, was mad that his favorite auctioneer didn't get the job so he spent the sale trying to make the breed-illiterate auctioneer look bad. And he was largely successful. The auctioneer looked worse than Lindsey Lohan's police mug photo. The sale manager wouldn't help with the buyer's names and asked the auctioneer tough questions on the microphone to embarrass him. Making matters worse, the sale was held at a modern auction facility where the auctioneer was supposed to open and close the gates with two buttons on the block. Never having done this before he kept asking the ring crew to open the gates. By the third lot he was so confused he didn't know whether to scratch his watch or wind his butt.
I suppose I wasn't much help either because I sat in the stands with a breed book in my hands shaking my head, wincing and covering my ears. When my friend came off the auction block he'd actually thought he'd done a decent job. I'm told this condition is called “situational awareness”, where an event or a set of circumstances is perceived differently by the people who experienced it.
Not only did auctioneers use to sell more than one breed, some even sold several species. I had a friend who sold cattle, goats, sheep, hogs and horses and could sell anything that walked through the door, including a yak that was consigned to the small animal sale one Saturday. He sold it despite having no idea what it was.
Another auctioneer acquaintance did a desperate thing and took an ostrich sale that he is still being teased about. A few years ago, when animals were popular as money-pits, species like emus and llamas enjoyed their fifteen minutes of allotted fame. No species went up faster or fell down with more of a thud than ostriches. One minute they were fetching $35,000 per pair and the next minute investors were turning them lose. The price of ostriches fell faster and lower than the neckline of an unemployed gold-digger's dress.
Obviously the auctioneer took the sale for only one reason: $35,000 times one percent, times 100 lots, let's see, carry the nine.... anyway, it equaled a lot of money. There was only one problem. Well, okay, maybe there were several. The first problem was that the auctioneer turned out to be allergic to ostrich feathers and he found it very difficult to work the constant sneezing into his chant. Then there was the fact that the birds kept trying to peck his eyes out as he sat on the auction block. I am told this can be very disconcerting. Between the dodging and the sneezing the auctioneer barely had time to illustrate to everyone in attendance that he had no idea what he was talking about. But they somehow got the message. He'd say things like, “Look at those curly toes.” Or, “Wow, I haven't seen legs that big since my wife's family reunion.”
The bloopers didn't matter because shortly thereafter the ostrich business had a “market correction” and the birds became as popular as fried cole slaw and garlic toothpaste. The ostrich crash made the dot-com bust look like a gold rush and I haven't been to an ostrich sale since that auctioneer, thinking his microphone was in the off position, said for all the ostrich world to hear, “I hate these @#$%^&*! birds.”