After bottle-feeding and training their animals for months, a pair of 4-H siblings understands why today’s livestock auction may come with some tears.

Ethan Burgett, 16, and his younger sister, Ella Burgett, 11, raise dairy steers from the time they’re just calves, bottle feeding the animals. Both know their hardest year in 4-H was their first, when they sold the first dairy steer they ever raised, they said.

“When you’re raising them from the time they’re just bottle-fed babies, you grow an attachment over time,” Ethan Burgett said. “It’s hard selling the first one. You’re losing an animal you raised. At the auction, we’ve seen people in tears.”

But on the business side, Ethan has made $3,300 and Ella $3,250 selling their cows, they said. Though Ella is sadder about losing her dairy steer than she is happy about earning money, Ella Burgett said.

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Each 4-H’er is only allowed to sell one animal each year at the Johnson County fair, and the money they make from the sale will go to more feed, bedding, savings and buying a new animal. And despite the emotions that come with it, building a bond with the animal you intend to raise, show and sell is not a bad thing, 4-H’ers said.

Dylan Duncan, a 12-year-old participating in his fifth year of 4-H, remembers how attached he was to his pig the first year. He now understands forming a bond is necessary to get the most out of your animal, but he tries not to get too attached, Duncan said.

“They need to get attached and even upset — that’s not a bad thing,” said Chad Robards, Duncan’s father. “If they’re not attached, that means they weren’t (invested). Kids and their animals are a team.”

If 4-H’ers are attached to their animal, they treated them too much like a pet, said Caleb Reed, a 14-year-old 4-H’er who also shows and sells pigs.

Most 4-H’ers spend at least two hours a day walking, feeding and washing their animals. But just because you’re spending a lot of time around them doesn’t mean that bond is the same as it is with the family’s pet dog, 4-H’ers said.

Since his first year in 4-H, Cody Wells has had a clear understanding of the business side of raising and showing his pigs. Raising the animal with a lot of care and attention, but not viewing it as a pet, really isn’t hard, Wells said.

Wells, a 12-year-old in his fourth year of 4-H, never had a hard time dealing with the reality that the animals he shows will eventually be slaughtered, Wells said. Wells understands he’s not raising an animal, he’s raising quality food, Wells said.

“It was easy from the beginning. We put a lot of emphasis on (slaughtering). We butcher our pigs — we eat them. Cody was fine with it,” said Jeremy Wells, Cody’s father.

The Wells have their own farm where they butcher the animals themselves. Some pigs have gone for as much as $1,000 in an auction, and Cody saves the money he gets in hopes of buying a truck when he gets his driver’s license, Cody Wells said.

Each 4-H’er who raises and shows an animal is learning responsibility and discipline, Duncan said. Some are spending as little as five months caring for and training their animal, while others can spend a year or more.

How much money a 4-H’er can make at auction is not entirely out of his or her control, 4-H’ers said. The price at an auction is per-pound for cows and pigs, but putting on that weight isn’t just about feeding the animal as much as possible, Ethan Myers said.

Myers works on a recipe of feed that he gives his pigs in hopes that it will put on the most lean weight by the time the auction comes, Myers said.

Most of the time, especially for younger 4-H’ers, if money that was earned at an auction is not saved, it’s being spent on supplies or more animals. Myers, 11, shows pigs but wanted to expand his livestock and moved on to goats, and he eventually wants to raise cattle, too, Myers said.

When Myers told his parents he was interested in goats, they initially said no, said Almeda Myers, Ethan’s mother. But because of his commitment to 4-H and the responsibility he has shown, his parents allowed him to raise goats if he spent his own money to buy and raise them, she said.

Prices at the auction can vary depending on several variables, 4-H’ers said. The price for cattle, for example, can raise as much as $500 to $600 with each bid, Ethan Burgett said.

Who will be bidding on the animal and how well the animal did during show are also big factors, Ethan Myers said. If he doesn’t think he can make the amount of money the animal cost him by selling it at auction, he won’t sell, he said.

But how much a 4-H’er makes at auction should never be what determines if they failed or succeeded at raising an animal, Robards said.

“It’s a part of the process, but the auction has nothing to do with success,” Robards said. “Success is the awards from showing the animals and the effort they put into raising them.”

Friday fair schedule

Friday fair schedule

9:30 a.m.: 4-H awards program (indoor arena)

5 p.m.: Midway opens

5 p.m.: Livestock auction (indoor arena)

7 p.m.: Austin Lee, free stage

7 p.m.: Horseshoe pitching

7:30 p.m.: Demolition derby, admission $10 for adults, $5 for kids 12 and under

Author photo
Corey Elliot is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2719.