CASPER, Wyo — “There’s a lot of quality this year,” said Kera Bullard of the 335 swine, beef, poultry, and dairy animals on display this week at the Natrona County 4-H/FFA Junior Livestock Sale (NCJLS) at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds. Cattle in show pens stayed put more than they usually do, and weights and prices held steady from previous years. Bullard said that might be partially a result of COVID-19: kids that raised the animals were able to spend a bit more time on them this year in the absence of school and spring sports.
The possibility of having a live sale this year was in doubt due to the pandemic until almost June. Normally the animals would stay all week at the indoor arena. This year no animals were to be housed overnight, as county health officials, fair board staff, and Natrona County 4-H/FFA committee members coordinated on the logistics of a modified live format. Shelter tents were set up in the middle of the outdoor rodeo arena, and 2 species per-day were brought in for shows and weigh-ins and taken out at the end of the day.
The week of weigh-ins and showmanship challenges ended Friday with the inaugural alpaca show, as well as “pocket pet” and cat shows. Saturday the kids brought their market-ready livestock to the live auction sale, the result of up to a year of early morning feedings, bookkeeping, veterinary expenses, and showmanship training.
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“I tell the kids in the morning, ‘The animals eat first,'” said Bullard, who grew up doing 4-H and now is on the NCJLS committee. Her two children Madison and Trevor raise show cattle, and have raised goats and cattle.
“It’s important to me to have [the kids] learning responsibility and work ethic,” Bullard said. Trevor and Madison keep their own record books of operational expenses, fill out W-2s and 1099s at the end of the year, pay vet bills from thier own checkbooks, and must provide proof of the thank-you notes they wrote to buyers, as must all returning 4-H exhibitors.
She said a lot of the people she came up doing 4-H with were there on Saturday watching their own kids show off the quality of their labors. “It’s neat to see — it’s generational. [4-H] is how we became responsible adults.” Bullard said some of the children are enlisting their friends as well.
A team of auctioneers took bids from the stands and transferred ownership to the buyers with a tap of a gavel. Buyers could then donate the animal back to the child, to a non-profit agency, or have them processed in Hudson at Wyoming Custom Meats.
According to Bullard, 55% of last year’s sales went to non-profits including Wyoming Food for Thought, Meals on Wheels, and Joshua’s Storehouse. Local non-profit agencies had representatives on hand to shuttle invoices from the organizers to the buyers upon sale.
Jonas Buckner has raised sheep and goats, but in recent years has moved on to chicken and rabbits, because they are easier to show. This year he raised the competition’s first Grand Champion Jumbo meat ducks, which grew from hatchlings to 9-lb. ducks in 8 weeks. “A lot of feed.” said Jonas’s mother Karen about the ducks’ upkeep particulars.
Jonas’s sister Charlotte raised alpacas this year, which are raised for their fleece. She said there’s a specialist who comes by once a year to shear them, and that there’s an art to getting the body fleece off in one piece. She also raised Jalapeno, the Grand Champion Japanese Bantam Rooster, whose crow Charlotte says stands out amongst the others. He’s also one of the few animals that gets a name.
“There will be tears,” Bullard said, recalling the inevitable scene when the kids send their animals off in trailers Sunday morning to be processed. “You know all along the purpose they’re being raised for, but you get attached. Especially that first year.”
In addition to the alpacas and ducks, 2 meat yaks were presented for the first time this year. Bullard said she’s had yak steak, burger and jerky. “It’s like buffalo,” she said. “Lean and rich.” She also recommends smoked goat shoulder, which has a milder flavor than lamb.