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More Than An Auctioneer

By Staff | Feb 19, 2016

Photo Credit: Corrina Beck Photography (Herreid, SD) Mike Ostrem in the midst of the first round of competition.

This past month Rugby’s Mike Ostrem participated in an auctioneering competition, the Greater Midwest Livestock Championship, in Herreid, S. Dak. where he placed eighth out of 24 contestants. Held every year, the competition rotates among six upper midwest states. Entrants came from all over the U.S. to compete in the January 22 event.

On the morning of the contest, each entrant was judged selling 10 slaughter cows. Auctioneers picked as the top 10 returned in the afternoon to sell 10 calves. The top three contestants were announced, with the rest of the finalists learning later where they had placed.

Even though he didn’t win the big prize, Mike is happy with his finish. “It’s an honor to place like that,” he said. “Guys I listened to when I was a kid at a sale here or there competed.”

According to Mike the auctioneering profession is dominated by people over 50 and he, at age 23, is one of the youngest full-time livestock auctioneers at sale barns in N. Dak.

He is no novice in the field, however.

As a pre-schooler, Mike spent a considerable amount of time at Rugby Livestock where his dad worked, and his grandpa sold cattle. He was fascinated with the auction, and while other boys his age were playing with Power Rangers, Mike set up an auction block complete with a microphone in his basement and ‘sold’ cattle.

Later, when he attended kindergarten, he was upset to learn that the staggered-day schedule meant every other week he had to miss going to the sales barn. “That was the worst part of kindergarten,” he recalled.

Between his junior and senior years of high school, he attended auctioneering school at the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Mont. The intensive course ran from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for 14 days, and Mike graduated on his 18th birthday. Returning to Pierce County he went to work at Rugby Livestock where he continues to sell on Mondays plus other special sales that are booked.

Mike also works as a contract auctioneer at Lake Region Livestock in Devils Lake and for other auctioneers. “I’ve sold everything from Tupperware to John Deere tractors,” he said with a laugh.

In addition to his auction schooling, Mike attended North Dakota State University for a year and a half, studying animal science. He farms with his father and runs cows on the family farm south of Rugby.

Mike is grateful to have Ron Torgerson, Rugby Livestock’s veteran auctioneer, as a mentor in his chosen line of work. Not only did Ron steer him to the Montana school, he asked Mike to help with a household auction in Rugby upon his return. “The first thing I ever sold was a step-ladder,” Mike said.

A week after that sale, while he was out back sorting cattle at Rugby Livestock, Ron called him up front and opened up his chair to the newly-minted auctioneer. “Ron has put in many a good word for me,” Mike said, “and I’ve continued to grow by picking up tips from watching him.”

Mike followed the Midwest Championship competition by placing second in the North Dakota State Merchandise Contest held in Fargo the first week of February. Competitors at that event sell three items that they bring with them, then auctioneers judged to be the top five sell three things provided by the contest officials. “I was the youngest one in the state contest,” he said.

For any sale, but especially for livestock, Mike feels a responsibility to the seller. “I want to help producers get the best return possible for their cattle,” he said. “It’s the one paycheck they get for their year’s work. It puts a lot on my shoulders to get the best price I can.”

But he also derives a lot of satisfaction from his work. “I enjoy it, I enjoy the people,” he commented. “I enjoy everybody and everything around the sale.”

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