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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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June 28, 2005: Herding on Public Roads

Q: I was caught for what seemed to be an eternity in the middle of a flock of sheep which was being herded on a public highway. Why does Colorado allow such a traffic impediment ( a very unhappy visitor)?

A: A few years ago I was caught up in an enormous herd of horses in northwestern Colorado that caused me to be an hour late for an estate planning seminar that I was asked to lead. So I understand your unhappiness.

In response to your question and to update myself, I contacted several law enforcement agencies to verify the current policy regarding such activities. In the more urbanized areas, the use of public roadways to "trail" animals is usually prohibited by local ordinances or at least modified by the requirement of a police escort. In more rural counties, herding animals "short distances" along a roadway is permissible, although at times law enforcement officers will be on hand to help keep traffic flowing. But if the highway passes through "open range," then a more expansive latitude is usually observed when cattle are "trailed" from one pasture to another.

You are in the west so relax and enjoy these increasingly rare experiences, reminiscent of the movies made by directors such as John Ford who portrayed such scenes in those panoramic 1930's and 1940's westerns.

While you are in Colorado, I might suggest that you, along with the kids, take in another western tradition—a livestock auction, which several other readers of the column have asked about. You will enjoy the experience a bit more if you understand some of the rules, and these general rules will also apply to any kind of auction.

Get there early so you can see the farmers and ranchers unloading their animals and potential buyers examining the day's offerings. Watch the brand inspectors (yes they really do exist) looking over the animals and any ownership and transportation documents that might be required by state law. You may also spot a veterinarian examining livestock.

Most sales barns have a cafeteria. So have breakfast and listen to the conversations going on around you to really develop a feel for your surroundings and paint the background for what you are about to experience.

Every auction (livestock or otherwise) has its own rules. Animals are usually sold "without recourse" which means that once the animal is turned into the ring, the owner must accept the final bid. However, some animals are tendered "with course" but that is usually announced prior to bidding. Occasionally a minimum bid is required to have a sale.

Listen to the verbal cadence of the auctioneer who is soliciting "bids" from the audience. Notice the people around you who indicate a desire to accept the auctioneer's suggested bid—some by nodding of a head, a flick of a finger, etc. Other auctions have a required methodology such as holding up little signs. Sometimes to be eligible the participants have to be registered and have their credit approval.

Most auctions will permit a bidder to withdraw a bid prior to the acceptance, often signified by the striking of a gavel. (So the numerous comedy shows that portray a bidder stuck with a bid probably are a bit off the mark, especially when made with an unintended gesture taken as a bid.)

Technically if the proud new owner has "buyers remorse," the animal or animals are run back through the ring before the auction is over and resold. But most sale barns maintain that once the bid is accepted by the auctioneer, the owner is bound and any resale is by the "new" owner. You will notice a few buyers who seem to be completing the most transactions. They usually are purchasing for slaughter houses and occasionally for feed lots.

Then wonder back to the office and notice the paperwork involved in completing the details of each sale (and remember if you buy something, you need to make arrangements to haul away what you buy).

These sale barns are being consolidated into fewer locations and auctions are now being held on closed circuit T.V. and on the internet. So go out and get a little manure on your shoes and enjoy this part of the fading West.


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