At the Boone County Fair ham auction Saturday morning, 6-year-old Wyatt Burnett stood on a chair and held his grand champion 14-pound ham in his small arms.
The buzz of friendly chatter filled the room. Wyatt turned his head to smile at his mother, Michelle, and his older sister, reserve champion Shelby Burnett, 11, both seated on the raised stage. The auctioneer stepped up to the microphone and the bidding began.
Wyatt’s prize-winning ham quickly sold for $240 per pound to friends of Boone County Sheriff Ted Boehm, breaking the fair’s ham sale record.
Decked out in denim and braids, Shelby stepped up next. Wulff Brothers Masonry bought her ham for $160 per pound, a reserve champion record.
“It’s the first time we’ve had a brother-sister combination,” emcee and former Missouri Gov. Roger Wilson said at the event. “I think we have a revolution going on in the ham industry in Boone County.”
The Burnett family is familiar with Boone County Fair ham show success. Last year, Bailey Burnett, 9, had the top-selling ham, which auctioned for $39 per pound to Farm Power Lawn and Leisure. Shelby and Wyatt placed 20th and 21st respectively.
This year, Wyatt, Shelby and Bailey placed first, second and 13th respectively in both the youth and overall divisions of the ham show. Both Wyatt and Shelby received plaques and the sale proceeds from their hams. Wyatt also had his name engraved on a silver tray.
The 285 hams were judged in eight categories: eye appeal, outside color, smoothness of skin, fitting, trim, firmness, meatiness and aroma. Wyatt’s grand prize ham received 90 points out of 100, and Shelby’s followed with a close 89.
The Burnetts buy their hams each December and cure them at the Hallsville Community Center with the other Hallsville 4-H Go-Getters.
“The kids lay the ham out and rub salt all over them and have a good old time,” Michelle Burnett said.
The hams hang in the Burnetts’ Centralia barn until April when they are taken down for cleaning. Before showing their hams at Hallsville Heritage Days, the kids trim the hams of excess fat and rub the meat with paprika and olive oil to prevent molding. The hams are then put back up in the barn until the Boone County Fair rolls around.
“I think my ham won because it’s nice and clean,” Wyatt said. “I put salt on it and scrubbed it really hard.”
The top 49 hams in the overall division of the ham show were auctioned off after the annual ham breakfast on Saturday. Steve Baumgartner of Rocheport cured and provided the ham for the record-breaking crowd.
“We always have a good turn out on buyers,” ham show co-chairman Paul Little said.
These buyers included parents, grandparents, friends, businesses and political candidate supporters. A sea of red, white and blue campaign signs lined the entryway to the fair’s multipurpose building, and various candidate supporters and campaign staff representatives sat together to plot bidding war strategies.
Kyle George, estate and livestock auctioneer, was the head auctioneer at this year’s ham sale and has been involved with the event for more than a decade.
“It’s much more laid back than typical auctions,” George said. “It’s like a benefit auction with no high pressure sales. All the money goes back to the kids.”
George has opened college funds for his son, Ben, 14, and his daughter, Morgan, 11, using the money they have won at ham, lamb and hog auctions.
He’s not the only one with college in mind. After giving Wyatt and Shelby between $50 and $100 to spend on whatever they want, the Burnetts’ winnings will be split evenly among the three children and invested into college funds, Michelle Burnett said.