Youngsters part with animals they raised

An auctioneer, Lawrence Bettincourt , signals to a buyer as Kayla Weststeyn, 14, gets $10 per pound for her Yorkshire hog at the fair in Turlock, Calif.
An auctioneer, Lawrence Bettincourt , signals to a buyer as Kayla Weststeyn, 14, gets $10 per pound for her Yorkshire hog at the fair in Turlock, Calif.

"I know that I can't get too attached," said a girl as her prize goat headed to auction at a county fair.

Posted: August 13, 2009

TURLOCK, Calif. - Emily Kosky said her final goodbye Saturday morning, stroking the neck of her goat as it gobbled up a breakfast of protein-fortified pellets and alfalfa.

"This is one of the most difficult days for me. He is heading to auction and I know he's probably going to end up on someone's table," said Kosky, a member of Turlock Hoof N Horns 4-H. "I've spent a lot of time with Hobby, but I know that I can't get too attached."

While Hobby is destined to produce a fine assortment of edible treats, including juicy loin chops and thick chunks of meat for stew, the 95-pound wether (farm slang for being neutered) is going out a winner.

He was judged the supreme champion goat at this year's Stanislaus County (Calif.) Fair, a feat that drew a steady line of admirers to his pen before the start of the auction.

It was a morning of mixed emotions for Kosky, as well as hundreds of other FFA and 4-H members who brought animals to the fair.

"It's exciting to have the supreme champion, it's the first time I've done that," the seventh grader said. "I've got other goats at home, but Hobby has become a friend."

There were plenty of sentimental farewells as kids from 8 years old to 20 took their animals to the auction ring to be sold.

It's an annual rite of summer, showing animals at the fair and selling them, finalizing a business transaction.

"You have to remember it's a business," said Austin Day, a Pitman FFA member whose crossbred steer was the fair's supreme grand champion. "I think everyone out here gets attached to their animal, but this also is about teaching us how to make good decisions."

The students keep financial records, accounting for feed and other expenses, but few of these students will earn a sizable profit for the months of work they have invested.

The champions are typically the exception to that rule.

Modesto, Calif., FFA member Brad Mendes, for example, got $20 a pound for his 274-pound supreme champion hog. He will use that $5,480 for college and perhaps to buy a few hogs.

"I think the judges saw that he didn't have any holes. He met or exceeded the standard in every area," said Mendes, who graduated from Modesto High in 2008.

Modesto dentist Bruce Valentine wasn't analyzing the structure of the hindquarters or color when he bid on Mendes' prize porker.

"Sure, I could go to the store and buy bacon or chops for a lot less, but I come to the fair because the kids put so much effort into it," said Valentine, the Mendes family dentist for 30 years. "When I had the kids at home, we'd buy a side of beef, but with just my wife and I, we don't eat as much."

Valentine was part of a syndicate that bought Mendes' Hampshire-Yorkshire cross.

"I see our purchase as an investment," he said. "We hear so much about the bad things kids are doing, but here are a group of kids doing it right."

While Mendes had his syndicate in place before the fair, others were scrambling in an attempt to get a higher price.

The auction program listed market prices for goats (90 cents a pound), lambs (90 cents), beef (75 cents) and hogs (42 cents) - but those won't cover the cost of raising and nurturing an animal.

That's why kids ask family, friends, and business owners to bid on an animal or create a partnership to purchase it.

Day, who will be a freshman at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, this fall, had buyers lined up before the fair.

When his 1,260-pound steer left the judging ring with a bouquet of flowers and wearing the supreme champion blanket, however, Day knew he could fetch a higher price.

"Supreme champions generate a lot of interest, so I hit the street last week to make sure I had a large enough group of buyers to get that price," said Day. "I've got seven breeding cattle at home, so this makes me feel good about the way I raise them."

While some kids breed livestock to create their entry for the fair, others will spend a couple of hundred dollars or more to buy from breeders.

Makayla Spaman got her Hampshire-Suffolk wether from local breeders John and Carol Nicewonger.

There was little difference between her lamb and dozens of others that were for sale. It was her work the last seven months that turned it into the fair's supreme champion.

"He has great structure, he has a great walk and he's also attractive, but I've spent a lot of time to get him into shape. This is my eighth year at the fair, so I've shown a lot of animals, but it's still tough when you see them the last time."