For some there, it's their last night ever

A NIGHT AT THE LIVESTOCK AUCTION

January 27, 1993|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

In some editions yesterday, two photograph captions accompanying the Westminster Livestock Auction article were incorrect. The horns of the Watusi steer stretched about 5 feet from tip to tip. Attendance at the auction was 200 to 300 people.

+ The Sun regrets the errors.

The long tractor-trailer trucks, the flatbeds and pickups chug past the new developments at the edge of Westminster, carrying what may be your next T-bone steak.

The trucks converge at the Westminster Livestock Auction where hundreds of pigs, goats, sheep and cattle are bought and sold every Tuesday, many to be slaughtered.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Asked how soon some of these animals will be killed, Jim Starliper, manager of the auction, says: "Tomorrow."

This isn't an altogether pleasant place. Nor is it meant to be. Most of the animals are wild-eyed and dirty. They're labeled for sale with spray paint, crammed into holding pens and prodded into the auction ring.

If you want to see a farm animal that makes you smile, go to the fair.

Assembled in this barn on Route 31 just southwest of Westminster are people needing no reminder that mankind has dominion over the animals of the earth.

It's theater for some, who come for the ambience and perhaps a slice of homemade pie splashed generously with Cool Whip in Becky's Lunchroom, which stretches above the auction ring. It's big business for others, who come to buy young animals for the farm or older animals for slaughter.

Farmers who bring animals to sell entrust them to Doug Beckley, a Mennonite from Washington County who knows God and livestock. Meticulous and mild-mannered, he has worked for this auction company 20 years, since he was 16.

"I can't tell you the last Tuesday I was not here," he says thoughtfully. "I don't take a vacation. I'm pretty fortunate; I don't often get sick.

"And the Lord's had some providence. When I do get sick it's not on sale day."

Mr. Beckley oversees the maze of gates and wooden fences where the animals await the sale. A dozen or more workers herd the animals into crowded pens along narrow paths. The animals are often frantic. They can't know exactly what's happening, but they sense something's up.

A wild Charolais, a large, white beef cow, bolts from a truck and rips off the iron gate. The gate bashes Mr. Beckley in the side of the head, knocking him against a fence.

Later, as the knot on his cheek bone continues to blow up and darken, he says: "Our job certainly shouldn't be classified as boring. Sometimes it's enough to make a preacher cuss."

But Mr. Beckley holds his tongue.

A wooden catwalk rises above the pens. Many people, including families with children, look down at the animals.

A friendly fellow with a mouthful of chaw says he and his wife drive down every Tuesday from Stewartson, Pa., just to see the goats. The man says he's got 22 hungry goats at home. They eat anything, he says, bushes, grass, briers. They keep the place under control.

"You ought to seen my place before I got goats," he says. The most he's paid for a goat at auction is $114, he says. The least is $30.

"But ain't much of a goat when you can get it for that," he says.

The man is 73, and his name is Little, Orcen Little, he says, that's O-r-c-e-n. His wife is inside, waiting for the sale to start. He doesn't dare try to spell her name.

"She's a better speller than me," he says. His wife's name is Cora, Cora Little.

"We're just observing," she says cheerfully. "This is a nice place for senior citizens to come pass the time."

The auction begins about 5:30 p.m. and lasts until 12:30 a.m. In those seven hours about 600 animals are paraded into the sawdust ring and sold to the highest bidder.

The animal's weight flashes above the auctioneer's booth. Five rows of folding wooden seats, 220 seats in all, rise above the ring. About a third are full tonight. Some nights they're all full.

The buyers tend to sit in cushioned chairs along the walkway at the top.

A dozen buyers usually purchase 80 percent of the animals.

The cattle ready for slaughter sell for an average of $600 to $700 a head. The younger, feeder cattle, bring anywhere from $75 to $300.

Mr. Starliper is the ringmaster, moving animals in and animals out, making sure the action doesn't lag.

Affable, clean-cut and liked by buyers and sellers, he owns Four States Livestock Sales, which conducts livestock auctions Monday in Frederick, Tuesday in Westminster and Wednesday in Hagerstown.

OC There are five other livestock sales in Maryland. A dozen years

ago, he says, there were 15 in all.

"There's only a need for an auction barn if there're animals to sell," Mr. Starliper says. "Each year just about, you can see a trend. We have less animals to sell. The day may come when the land is worth more for development than for a livestock auction."

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