4-H kids end the year at Friday's livestock auction

    The Elkhart County 4-H Fair’s livestock auction is a huge event and the final event for many 4-H kids. Here’s how it works. 

    Posted on July 25, 2014 at 5:23 p.m.

    The Elkhart County 4-H Fair takes a lot of work to put together, but the event that requires the most volunteers could be the livestock auction.

    The auction starts early on the last Friday of the fair and goes late, until the last steer is purchased.

    Jeff Burbrink, Extension educator and a coordinator of the livestock auction, said the auction involves almost everyone who deals with the 4-H livestock at the fair. 

    “It’s just a huge thing — it’s probably the biggest single-day event in the whole program, because it’s for everybody,” he said Friday, July 25, standing near the sheep and swine arena and talking over the auctioneer’s insistent call. 

    The excitement started for the kids early in the morning. 

    Most starting washing, brushing and otherwise getting their animals ready for their time on the floor. Just before 9 a.m., a line of sheep and their owners formed outside the arena. 

    The kids guide their animals in and seconds later, the animals are sold to the highest bidder. 

    And the 4-Hers earn pretty good money for them — usually quite a bit more than what the animal’s market value would be, Burbrink said. 

    That’s because the buyers want to support 4-H as best they can.

    Sometimes a group of people will get together and pool their money to bid on a particular 4-Her’s animal. Some people can’t attend the auction, but they’ll call and donate a particular amount of money to help a 4-Her who might not be getting high bids, Burbrink said. 

    “A lot of the buyers were in 4-H themselves, so they are just giving back,” he said. “These kids in Elkhart County are really blessed because the support we have for this auction is really amazing.”

    Last year, the fair’s auction brought in $1 million total, setting a record.

    After the auction, buyers can choose to keep the animal they purchased, have it processed for meat or donate it to organizations like Church Community Services’ Seed to Feed program, which provides locally grown and raised food to people in need in Elkhart County. 

    The 4-Her, on the other hand, gets to keep the money they earned from their animal. 

    Many kids use some of that money to buy their animal project for the next year’s fair, and many put the money in a college fund, Burbrink said. 

    Sometimes it’s hard for 4-Hers to part with their animal, especially kids in their first few years of 4-H. But that feeling typically passes after a few years.

    “(The auction) kind of takes them to the next step of, this is what happens when you are producing farm goods,“ Burbrink said. 

    Follow reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks

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