Ab Carroll spends a lot of time perfecting his auction chant.
Whether he’s selling cows at the Ontario Stockyards or competing with other livestock auctioneers on the world stage, Carroll always aims for a dazzlingly quick monotone of words, numbers and well-placed yips to bring a sale.
“It’s all in the rhythm; that railroad chug of ‘one-dollar-bid, now-two, now-two-dollar-bid, now-three …’ That’s what you need for a real cattle rattle.”
The 24-year-old is pretty good.
In 2018, Carroll was the youngest person to ever win the Canadian livestock auctioneering championship at the age of 23.
In January, Carroll will travel to Yankton, South Dakota, for a livestock auctioneering competition in hopes of qualifying for the 2020 World Championships.
He’s gone to the Worlds twice before but didn’t make the cut last year. His performance at a qualifying event in Athens, Georgia, wasn’t up to his — or the judges’ — exacting standards.
He isn’t going to let that happen again.
Days away from the Jan. 8 competition, Carroll is practising every chance he gets.
He auctions imaginary cows while driving, making breakfast, even doing evening chores on his 100-acre cattle farm in Downeyville, a rural crossroads 15 km east of Lindsay.
Three times a week, Carroll auctions at the Ontario Stockyards, a sprawling complex minutes off Highway 400 in Cookstown, 75 km north of Toronto.
Most weeks, he’ll sell between $4 million and $5 million of livestock. Carroll loves the rush of watching so much money change hands.
“It’s like being on Wall Street. The money moves so fast.”
On a Monday morning in December, Carroll is in the auction box at the Stockyards, waiting for cattle buyers to fill the stands.
“Veal’s up,” he shouts as a black and white Holstein calf walks into the small ring.
After a sip of water, Carroll drawls ‘All right …’ then launches into his rapid, rollicking auction chant.
It takes 37 seconds for him to sell the 645-pound calf. She goes for $1.27 a pound.
Over the next 90 minutes, Carroll will auction 108 calves for a total of $80,000. It’s a warm-up to Thursday’s auction, where he will sell nearly $2 million in cattle.
Kevin McArthur, a cattle buyer, trucker and part-time auctioneer at the Stockyards, says Carroll is good — for someone so young.
“But he’s got more to learn behind the scenes. He’s got to really know the animals — what they’re worth — and he’s got to know the buyers. But he’ll learn as he goes.
“He’s a hustler, I’ll give him that.”
Carroll, the oldest of four sons, grew up on his parents’ beef farm in Downeyville. His grandparents, also cattle farmers, lived down the road, and Carroll often went with his family to local livestock and farm machinery auctions.
He decided to become an auctioneer at 14 after watching a man auction homemade fruit pies at a 4H youth event.
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Soon Carroll was walking around the farm reciting tongue twisters. Practising tricky phrases — ‘A big brown bug bit a big brown bear,’ for example — helped him master the repetitive rhythm of an auction chant.
By the following summer, Carroll was auctioning chickens and rabbits on Saturday mornings at the Kawartha Lakes local market. He also auctioned household goods on Friday evenings, selling everything from vintage quilts to $2 tea cups.
At 17, in his final year of high school, Carroll earned his auctioneering certificate so he could sell cattle, a long-held dream. He also started competing against other livestock auctioneers, first at the local level and then nationally.
In 2014, he went to Moose Jaw, Sask., to compete at his first Canadian Livestock Auctioneering Championship. At 19, he was the youngest competitor and placed 20th out of 28.
“I was really happy to not be last,” Carroll says. “But I learned a lot watching the others and took all of that home with me.”
That same year, Carroll got a job selling cattle at the Ontario Stockyards, a shock to some in the industry because of his age.
Wayne Small, a former owner of the Stockyards, recalls the day he gave Carroll a trial run auctioning cattle in the big ring.
“He went up into the box and surprised us all to hell. He was good.”
After 57 years in the livestock industry, Small can recognize a top-notch auctioneer.
“Ab’s sharp, he’s got a clear voice and he’s polite,” Small says. “You might not think politeness is important in this industry but it is. When a buyer spends 20,000 bucks in a minute-and-a-half on butcher steers you need someone in the box who has a way of acknowledging that, a way of saying ‘thanks very much.’ Ab can do that.”
Carroll has been working at the Stockyards for five years, keeping up with auctioneering while studying for his nursing diploma at Barrie’s Georgian College.
So far, Carroll doesn’t have plans to be a nurse. He loves the livestock industry — the people, the pace, the animals — too much.
Carroll’s girlfriend, Ashley Ferraro, admires his confidence. She says his go-getter personality has helped him get ahead in a tough profession.
The pair met in 2016 at a livestock auctioneering competition hosted by her parents who are well-known in the industry. In October, her family bought the Ontario Stockyards from Small, and Carroll and Ferraro now co-manage the busy facility.
As the days tick down to the Worlds, Carroll is watching the U.S. cattle market. The cows he’ll see in the auction ring in South Dakota will be sold to actual buyers, and getting farmers the best possible price for their animals will boost his overall score.
Carroll also has to decide whether he’ll wear a blue or black suit to the competition. Either way, he knows he’ll pair it with a pink tie and white cowboy hat; looking professional counts in the score, too.
Mostly, he’s working on his auction chant. His cattle rattle needs to beat out the best in the industry.
“I want it to really rock ’n’ roll.”