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4-H livestock auction brings mixed emotions

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The months of bottle feeding, long walks for exercise and near constant care ended Friday night.

Sam Wood has raised his two goats, Doc and Louie, since they were babies. The animals had been under his watchful eye every day, and he raised them to be champions at the Johnson County 4-H and Agricultural Fair.

But as most 4-H’ers know, their paths would split with the annual livestock auction to close the fair.


“I can bring Doc outside, and he’ll just follow me around. I don’t have to keep him close to me or anything. So it can be sad when you’re with them that much,” Sam said. “But when you get a decent price, that helps out with the sadness.”

The livestock auction is a time of mixed emotions for the boys and girls of 4-H. They have the opportunity to make hundreds and even thousands of dollars from their hard work, setting themselves up for success the following year.

At the same time, it can be hard to part with the animals they had grown close to after months together.

“We cry each year if we get overly attached. My parents warn us, ‘You’ll cry if you get really attached,’ but sometimes we do anyway,” said Emi Lou Campbell, 14, of Franklin. “Especially if you have one that you saw born and raised it from that point. It’s hard because you remember when it was that cute.”

The livestock auction serves as a main fundraiser for the 4-H competitors in the county. In 2013, the featured animals fetched a total of more than $261,000.

That money is a bittersweet trade-off.

Emi Lou and her siblings, Casey and Cole, each planned to sell cattle at this year’s auction.

Casey Campbell, 18, is a 10-year 4-H member and remembers the first year she had to sell her cattle. The cow’s name was Clancy, and she said the livestock auction never gets easier.

“I only had one cow and really cried about that one. But I cry about all of them,” she said. “It’s life. That’s what ag is. It’s a business.”

The Campbell family has set up a system to handle the proceeds from the auction. The money goes into a bank account that they call their cattle account.

With that money, they can buy new cows the following 4-H season. Their parents paid for their animal the first year, and each child is responsible for the years following that.

“At the end of our 10 years, we’ll take that money and put it into our college fund,” Emi Lou said. “I don’t know who else does that, but it’s what our family does.”

To ensure their animals fetch the highest prices, they make them look their best. They use oil and sprays to make the animals’ coats shiny. Another trick involves using adhesive gel to comb the hair up on the animals’ legs.

“You want it to look meatier, and use it on the tail head to make it fuller,” Cole said.

Sam, 13, has been raising goats for the past three years on his family’s Franklin farm.

He’s raised and bred Boer goats, known for their meat. Each year, he enters two wether goats at the fair. Because the castrated males can compete only one year at the fair, he has to sell them in the auction.

Sam walks the wethers up to 2 miles each day. He bought them when they were a month old, so he had to bottle feed them.

“You work them really hard and get the muscles so they have a lot of meat on them. Then at the end of the year, you sell them,” Sam said.

Last year, one of his goats sold for $700. With that money, he was able to buy three goats to enter this year. So though it can be sad to see the animals go after putting in the time with them, the proceeds make it possible for him to buy new goats in the fall.

Josh Pruitt has entered a hog in the livestock auction each of his six 4-H years. The Nineveh 16-year-old uses the sale of his animal to pay for feed for the following year.

At the same time, the buyers get quality animals that they know helps a local teen.

Jay Henderson planned to take part in the auction for the first time. Though he’s been in 4-H for eight years, he had never shown a hog before.

He spent hours feeding and caring for the animal. Before shows, he clipped it, bathed it and made sure it looked the best for the judges.

“I wanted the experience of showing a pig and learning the hard work it takes. And I wanted to make a little money,” he said. “It’s a lot harder than you think.”

Colt Duke, 18, of Bargersville, is a 10-year 4-H member. He has done the livestock auction each year, selling his cattle for more than $1,000.

Though the proceeds usually go toward the next year’s animal, he’ll use the money this time for his freshman year at Indiana State University.

He planned to sell his Chianina cattle this year, an Italian breed raised mainly for beef. He’s raised the animal since October. In earlier years, the auction process could be distressing, but Duke has accepted that it’s part of the agricultural system.

“At this point, I’m just ready for him to go,” he said. “But it can be sad sometimes.”

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