Livestock sale day at the fair. The words alone are enough to make you want to go running into the cellar, because you know the storm is coming.
People with kids in 4-H and FFA get quiet when they hear the words, especially if they have experienced it before.
Once you have experienced that with your kids, you are never the same.
Livestock sale day has kind of a love-hate thing going. The kids raise their animals and sell them to make some money, but unlike with livestock at home, they have to spend a little extra time with those animals – washing them, breaking them to lead, becoming friends with them.
And while they are excited to get a little cash from selling their animals at the fair, it also means a farewell comes between the show arena and the truck that awaits them outside the barns.
Our daughter used to have issues with the thought process behind getting an animal to trust you enough to let you lead it around and care for it, then help it onto a truck after the sale to become part of the food chain.
She has a very compassionate heart.
4-H and FFA kids get up early that morning – usually a little earlier than normal – probably because they didn’t sleep well that night before, knowing what they had to do the next morning.
They arrive at the fairgrounds to wash and prepare their animals one last time, maybe with a little more care than they washed and prepared them before.
Soon they hear the sound of trucks coming onto the fairgrounds, and even the youngest 4-H’ers know what they are for.
The crowd and the bidders arrive, and all too soon they hear the sound of the auctioneer’s voice, and someone calling out their name, saying that they are on deck to take their animal into the sale ring.
I have always been kind of glad that I have had a camera to hide behind as our kids entered the sale ring.
It was plain to see how hard it was for them to sell their animals, as it was for many 4-H and FFA kids each year. Some go through the ring like it’s all in a day’s work; but for others who have truly spent quality time with their animals and become friends, it’s a swan song of sorts.
One that is made through misty eyes, and sometimes outright tears before a crowd of bidders and spectators.
And many of those people watching are also choking back tears.
They are probably parents of 4-H and FFA kids, too, who know how hard this day is for the kids and for the families.
My husband, an avid supporter of the FFA program, was one of the FFA kids who helped out on sale day at the fair one year when he was in high school.
Someone asked him to help in the beef barn that day, and so he did.
But he said it didn’t take long to figure out that it was going to be a very long and difficult morning, with the somber mood in the beef barn, and the tears it took for kids (and even sometimes dads) to bring their calves back through the barn, remove their halters one last time, and say their farewells as the truck awaited them.
My husband learned a lot that day as a high school FFA member.
For young 4-H’ers, they often get their first taste of it with sheep or goats that they bring to the fair.
They’re both great young-kid projects, and it’s hard not to become attached to something you have raised from the time it was born.
That was our own kids’ first experience with selling 4-H livestock. Those first sheep were hard to let go.
For older kids especially, it seems to be the calf sale that matters most. Some hide behind their calves while the auctioneer does his job, while others lead their calves around bravely, or even with open tears.
It’s a hard thing to watch, but it’s also heartwarming to know that these kids have done the work that 4-H and FFA asks of them – care for their animals.
If they didn’t, it wouldn’t be so hard to say farewell to them on the last day.
This year, I heard one of the sheep committee guys say, after the sheep in the barn had all been loaded up, “Nothing’s left, but the tears.”
Did I mention hogs here? Well, this all holds true except for hogs.
Over in the swine barn, the kids mechanically help shoo them up the chute and into the truck, hopefully not using the same language their dads use while doing that same job at home.
No kids seem to miss their hogs. They just want the cash.
Two different neighborhood philosophers shared some tidbits of porcine knowledge with me.
One told me that if a hog had a head on both ends, it would go sideways.
And the other once told me that getting people to move in a line is worse than working with hogs. “You can’t lead ’em, and you can’t drive ’em,” he explained.
If only we could think of that on livestock sale day at the fair.
Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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