GREENFIELD — There might be tears. Maybe a few hugs. Definitely a little sadness.

Every summer, the final days of the 4-H fair week mark the beginning of the end of the relationship many 4-H’ers have with the animals they cared for all year. They exit the show arena with their cows, goats, sheep, chickens and pigs and prepare to say goodbye. At the end of the week comes the culmination of their year of hard work: the auction.

Once the livestock contests are over, the animals are sold to the highest-paying meat producer. A truck pulls up to the fairgrounds, loads the farm animals up and takes them away.

Selling their animals typically earns 4-H’ers anywhere between $150 and $500 or more, and the animals they’ve raised all year end up feeding families in central Indiana and across the country.

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The local 4-H auction is two-pronged, with one event for show and the other for business. Leading up to the fair and throughout the week, leaders of the livestock projects work behind the scenes to solicit bids for the year’s sale animals, said auction superintendent Tim Lewis. Year after year, the same bidders show interest in purchasing the animals being sold, Lewis said. Buyers submit bids per pound for cattle, swine, goats, sheep, poultry and rabbits.

Cattle, for example, sold for about $1.12 per pound this year. Sheep average between $1.40 and $1.75 per pound.

Each 4-H’er pays $6 to sell an animal in the auction. The meat packers who win the lot of animals pay the Hancock County 4-H Agriculture Association, and 4-H’ers receive their share of the proceeds after the fair, said sheep superintendent John Apple.

The public livestock auction, conducted on the last night of the fair, actually includes no animals, and the highest bidders win nothing, except the gratitude of the 4-H’er they reward with their money as a show of support.

Every year, the number of animals sold fluctuates. Youth have until 30 minutes after their show to decide whether their farm animal will be part of the auction — some know from the beginning they’ll sell the animals, but others need a little more time to decide. Typically, between 250 and 270 animals are sold — the largest percentage being hogs, Lewis said.

The average price for cattle is about $550 depending on the size of the cow. Sheep sell for about $300, while goats typically bring in half that amount. Hogs are sold for about $350 each.

The final check varies from animal to animal, but as much as $10,000 has been paid out to a lucky 4-H’er on auction night.

For six years, Tara Paarlberg — an 8-year 4-H member — raised and sold cows as part of her 4-H experience. Parting with her animals was difficult, especially as a young 4-H’er who considered them like pets, but it got easier every year.

But last year, when Tara showed goats for the first time at the county fair, it was a whole new experience. Goats have more personality than cattle and interact with their handlers, she said. She found she bonded a little bit more with the furry animals known to ask for some love from passersby in the barn.

Selling the goats she spent months raising and watching them get on a tractor to go to market at the end of fair week reminded her of what she experienced the first time she parted with her beloved 4-H animal as a youngster — she left the fair feeling a bit blue.

For many 4-H’ers, the promise of a payout makes the process easier.

The money 4-H’ers earn is typically used to support the following year’s projects or goes into a savings account for college, Lewis said.

On auction night, the 4-H’ers who agree to sell their animals stand in the ring and wait for eager buyers to call out bids — supporters’ way of congratulating youth for a good year. By then, some animals are already long gone from the livestock barns and on their way to market.

But others are there until the final fair-goers have left. Over the years, 4-H’ers have been seen lying with the animals they’re preparing to part ways with, spending just a little time hugging them before they’re gone. There are always tears, Lewis said.

But, it’s a learning opportunity. Selling their animals teaches youngsters where food comes from and how the farm works.

Their hard work is important — it helps feed families, after all, Lewis said.

Lindsay Yeager, a 10-year 4-H’er who shows sheep, typically saves half of her earnings and uses the other half to purchase sheep for the next fair.

She and her family spend as much as five hours a day caring for the animals, so they usually get attached. The day the sheep are sold and loaded up to go to market is always a little sad, she said.

She remembers selling her first sheep 10 years ago. After the auction, she thought she’d get to visit him from time to time after the fair ended. Her mom, Lori, had to break the news she wouldn’t see him again.

She laughs about it now.

“It’s hard, but it’s part of the process,” Lindsay said. “You have to learn this is how the industry works — it’s a source of food for a lot of people.”

At a glance

The fair might be over, but the memories aren’t. The Daily Reporter will print its 2016 Fair Scrapbook on July 30. The book will feature photos from fair week, including all of this year’s 4-H project winners.

Subscribers will receive a copy with their daily paper, and keepsakes will be on hand at the Daily Reporter office, 22 W. New Road, Greenfield.

By the numbers

Each summer, 4-H’ers sell the animals they’ve spend the year raising. The money earned varies based on the type of animal and it’s size. For many 4-H’ers, their earnings help support next year’s 4-H projects or go toward savings.

Typically, between 250 and 270 animals are sold.

A cow typically sells for $550, but could cost more depending on its size, according to 4-H’ers.

Goats usually go for around $150.

A hog costs about $350, depending on its size.

Sheep go for about $300.

Author photo
Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.