GREENFIELD – The auctioneer’s call rings loud from the show arena as local business folks shoot their arms up, hoping to place the highest bid in an effort to support the most deserving kids.

Every summer, the end of the fair brings the culmination of a year of 4-H’ers’ hard work: the livestock auction.

For some, that brings tears. But for all? Payday.

At fair’s end, the event’s most successful showmen — and 10-year members — take home the biggest checks, and many know where that money is going long before the auctioneer takes his post.

Saving for the future

After 10 years in 4-H, Reagan McCarty’s savings account is pretty hefty.

Those deposits of $300 to $400 a year — earned from raising sheep for 4-H — made her stint in cosmetology school a little easier on her bank account, she said.

When the fair is over, McCarty always counts on two checks, one for the market price of her lamb and the other from a generous bidder during the 4-H auction, an event that is just for show, a chance for supporters to reward their favorite 4-H’ers.

The market check, $350 to $500 from a meat producer, goes to the family friend who graciously raises the lamb McCarty shows ever year.

The other, called out by a bidder who takes home nothing except the 4-Her’s gratitude, has always been stashed away for the future — except about $100 her parents let her keep to reward herself with new clothes for the next school year.

She’s already finished cosmetology school and will soon work in a salon, so the cash she’s earned over the years will stretch even further.

One day, what started off as hours of sweat and tears in a barn will help pay off a wedding or provide the down payment for her own home, she said.

It’s a gift the program will give long after her 10 years is up.

“Four-H has taught me to be a saver, and I get to start my life without having to worry too much about money,” she said.

Supporting a cause

Abigail Manning knew long before she started caring for her pig the money she earned would help people living in developing countries grow their own food.

An incoming Eastern Hancock freshman, Abigail agreed to feed and walk a pig every day — and donate earnings from selling it — as part of a partnership with Elanco and Eastern Hancock to support the Food Resource Bank, a nonprofit that helps create sustainable food security programs in developing countries.

The pig and feed cost Abigail nothing, and Friday night, at her very first auction, she raised $3,600 for the cause.

She’s only ever raised goats, and she’s never parted with an animal at the end of fair week. But when the money rolled in, she couldn’t help but smile knowing she was helping a good cause.

Would she do it again? Absolutely, she said.

Costly hobby

For those 4-H’ers with years of contests ahead, there’s little doubt where they’ll invest their earnings: next year’s animal.

A calf, 4-H’er Ashton Willis said, usually costs $500 to $1,000, — and a good one might run the bill much higher.

Four-H’ers and their parents have that cost in mind from the minute the auctioneer chant begins to the final “going, going, gone.”

The good news is pay day usually comes with a good return on their investment.

For most 4-H’ers, cattle will bring in as much as $1,000 during the auction, said Ashton, a 5-year 4-H’er. Every once in a while, the showman gets luck, earning even more.

Even with the hefty check, raising cattle is expensive, so much of 4-H’ers earnings are put aside until it’s time to start next year’s project, she said.

For example, feed alone — a special brand used to bulk up show cattle that will be sold — costs some $20 a bag, which her 1,200-pound steer, Beau, could eat in a day, she said.

Is it sad to see them go each year? Maybe a little.

“The pain goes away when the check comes,” she said.

At a glance

The fair might be over, but the memories aren’t. The Daily Reporter will print its 2017 Fair Scrapbook on July 29.

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.

About the auction

Once the livestock contests are over, the animals shown at the Hancock County 4-H Fair are sold to the highest-paying meat producer, earning 4-H’ers anywhere between $150 and $500 or more depending on the animal.

The local 4-H auction happens in two parts. One event is for show — and includes no animals — and the other is all business.

Leaders of the livestock projects work behind the scenes to solicit bids for the year’s sale animals, and 4-H’ers receive their share of the proceeds after the fair.

Then comes the 4-H auction. There’s an auctioneer, calling bids, and enthusiastic participants — but nothing to take home.

The highest bidders at the public livestock auction win nothing, except the gratitude of the 4-H’er they reward with their money as a show of support.

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