COLUMBIA — Fresh sawdust covered the ground around a stage in the show barn at the Boone County Fair on Friday night. Children stood huddled in large groups behind the stage — some with animals, some without. Buyers, parents and spectators sat shoulder to shoulder, filling the venue's bleachers and tables. The packed house arrived en masse to buy livestock raised by local children.
Members of the mid-Missouri agriculture community support children involved in 4-H groups each year by purchasing their livestock above market cost at the Boone County Fair. Most buyers at the auction have been active in the community for many years, and buy livestock because they want to encourage 4-H'ers.
The animals come at no small cost, though, which allows young Missouri agriculture enthusiasts to profit from their hard work.
This year, Elaine Martin earned $6,600 for her grand champion market steer. Caroline Sicht, whose steer came in second, brought home $6,550 for the animal. Even the grand champion poultry pen, which contained three chickens, went for $250.
To thank them for their support, the 4-H kids host a dinner for the auction's buyers before the event each year. 4-H students, clad in T-shirts provided by one of the long-standing buyers, set up, serve and clean up the dinner, which is cooked by a group of parents.
"It's kind of our thank you to them for buying our animals," said Haley Ray, 9, of Hallsville. "That's saying thank you without saying it — for buying and coming."
Though the auction's buyers are interested in supporting the youth involved, 4-H livestock is also a great buy because the meat is of such high-quality, Donald Horn, a longtime livestock buyer and owner of Horns Butcher and Meat Processing in Fulton, said.
For example, steers raised by 4-H members are exercised daily, which makes them lean and increases the amount of meat that can be butchered from the animal.
"Hamburger, rib eye, T-Bone — everybody gets their cut," Horn said.
Children are largely responsible for rallying their own buyers. Horn said most kids ask people or businesses they work with throughout the year to support them in the auction. If they can drum up competition between bidders, they can make more money off their animals.
"It's not necessarily the quality of your animal, it's the quality of your buyers," Horn said. He went on to say that all of the animals are of great quality, because the 4-H members take good care of them.
National FFA Organization member Katlyn Garret, 21, said that caring for auction animals is a ton of work. Garret said she and her family wake up at 4:30 a.m. each morning to begin caring for their steers, lambs, goats and pigs. They run their sheep on treadmills, they walk their hogs and they rinse and brush their steers twice a day.
"We don't want to look back and think we could have done more," Garret said. "The less sleep we get now, the more it pays off in the end."
Though Garret has spent a great deal of time with the animals she's raised, she said she's grown accustomed to selling them for meat at auction.
"They are food – you just have to realize it," Garret said. "Without it, you don't have cheeseburgers or bacon. It's just part of life."
Garret's market lamb won reserve champion this year in what will be her final season of 4-H livestock auctions. Garret has made quite a profit in the past selling 4-H and FFA animals – the most expensive animal she ever sold was a $21,498 steer.
This year, instead of keeping the money, Garret decided to donate the profits she made from the sale of her goat to a charity run by the Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri. Through independent sponsors and the sale of her goat at the auction, she has raised over $9,000 so far.
Supervising editor is Ann Elise Taylor.