BY JIM MASON
Every October at Hale’s 5-H Ranch and Drive Thru Animal Park [perhaps since renamed the 5-H Animal Auction in Jackson, MO] just north of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the Hale family conducts the largest animal auction of its kind in the world. For four days, the Hale brothers auction off tropical birds, water buffalo, miniature horses, giraffes, and other “exotic” animals. Most of the buyers are collectors, traders, and breeders of exotic animals—people who fancy the unusual, people who like to swap their llama for a couple of miniature horses.
A few of the buyers at a recent sale, however, had darker motives. One has an exotic meat market in Chicago and goes down to Cape Girardeau every fall to get bargains on deer, elk, llama, and other animals; his business card said, “ask us for the unusual.” Another man buys up male elk with “good racks,” kills them, mounts the heads and horns, and sells them to rich, insecure men. A couple of buyers came to pick up deer, elk, and other horned animals because their horn chips bring up to $105 a pound on the aphrodisiac market in Asia. For still other buyers, the Hale auction is just another source of livestock for their “big game” hunting ranches in southwestern states.
Some 3,500 animals were auctioned at last year’s sale, generating over $2 million in cash flow. Animal after animal was driven from outdoor holding pens through a maze of chutes to a brightly-lighted auction ring. Wild-eyed and panicky, they huddled while the Hale brothers stirred up bids with their auctioneers’ banter. In the bleachers around the arena, buyers and sellers talked business.
Dale Hale, auctioneer:
“All the males are tagged in the right ear, all the females in the left ear…”
“These two longhorn steers are broke good. They’ll ride, drive, pull or do anything. If they don’t work for you, just butcher them. They’ll kill out at $1000 apiece.”
(Miniature horses come into the ring)
“Now we’re getting into your miniature horses. Now we’re talking merchandise.”
(Hale makes a speech about wildlife laws and permits)
“These laws aren’t as tough as they used to be, but they could lax them up a lot more.”
“Here’s the Hartford Insurance deer—the animal that made their commercial. Super gentle. He’s dehorned now.”
(An elk is driven into the arena, carrying one leg)
“This animal was injured last year when they were working him. His thigh bone went out of its socket and it won’t stay back in. It won’t hurt nothing. He’s all right otherwise.”
An Iowa soybean farmer in the crowd buys a miniature mule: “Last year I bought a llama and three rheas. I run them with my cattle. I just like to look out there and see them.”
In the crowd outside the auction tent, a woman has a diapered macaque monkey on a leash: “Sometimes I almost forget he’s a monkey.”
Along the fences and chutes, drivers with canes and cattle prods yell back and forth about the animals: “I sure turned that last one. I socked him good. I had him shaking.”
Originally published in the November/December 1983 issue of ‘Agenda’