The kids and the crowds alike were giddy for the return of the in-person livestock auction at the Linn County Fair on Saturday, which features animals raised by local 4-H and Future Farmers of America groups. After an entirely virtual auction last year, the festivities returned with a hybrid affair for both in-person and online bidding.
“Last year’s online auction was obviously an obstacle with the technological hurdles,” said beef superintendent Kari Holt. “The buyers are used to coming in in person and (having) that interaction with the kids. But now we’ve got the best of both worlds.”
As much as last year’s all-online affair was a hurdle, the innovation that resulted from it means that the fair can continue to offer a more modernized auction process in future years. The plan is, if the online auction continues to work out and pump more money into the programs, the hybrid model will continue for years to come.
Everyone said the fair’s return in 2021 meant the world to them.
“It was extraordinarily exciting and it meant so much to the kids,” said OSU & 4-H Extension Service coordinator Abby Johnson. “We saw a tremendous amount of community. We saw our kids just really blossom and come together.”
She said that aside from the excitement of a return to something like normal, the showcase of agriculture that the fair represents is always a big occasion for these youngsters.
“These kids work really hard … and this is where we come to an end of their projects,” Johnson said.
Of course, just as the return from COVID closures was exciting, the restrictions of the past 18 months brought new challenges and forced some participants to miss out on the full experience. Johnson described how the lack of in-person showing and judging for their animals can create a much different experience.
“That interaction with the judge is something you just can’t get through a computer,” she said.
Fair participants ranged in age and experience level. Some young kids were already seasoned veterans, while older children may never have had the experience of raising livestock for the fair before.
“My mom wanted us to try it out so we did,” said Maggie Cervantes, 17, of Brownsville, who was a first-year 4-H participant for the Lacomb Livestock group. Both her and her younger sister Paisley raised baby goats. “It was interesting and fun.”
They raised their goats, Milo and Otis, from the time they were just newborns to now, when they’re seven months old and getting prepared to be sold at the auction. With such cute baby animals, handlers can get pretty attached to their livestock in the lead-up to the auction.
“I won’t know until it happens,” she said of whether she’ll get sad when Milo gets sold. “I raised him since he was 24 hours old, but I’m also kind of happy he’ll be gone so I won’t have to deal with him.”
It’s worth pointing out, to give you just a taste of the hijinks that must have peppered the past several months, that the rambunctious Milo tried to eat this reporter’s plastic press badge and notepad during the interview.
Other kids take the emotional attachment they form with their animals to heart.
“The first year, I bawled and bawled but I came out and smiled in front of the crowd,” said Jeremiah Erz, a youngster who’s raised goats for four years now. “The next thing I know, I’m bawling again.”
His older sister, Hannah Erz, 17, is seasoned veteran of the 4-H scene, frequently winning ribbons for her dairy goats.
“I like the connections, too,” she said. “You meet a lot of people.”
Emma Squires, who was valedictorian of her graduating class at Lebanon High School this past spring, is competing in her final fair this year. She also said that the friends she’s made throughout her years were her favorite part of participating.
“The people I’ve (raised) steers with, we’ve become really close throughout the years,” Squires said. “I love having everyone back here in the barn, especially for my final year.”
That sense of community is one that saw the 4-H and FFA crowd not just through COVID-19, but through the wildfires that rocked the Santiam Canyon last Labor Day. Neighbors opened up their barns to house livestock for folks who had to evacuate and entire communities pitched in to stockpile feed so that the cattle wouldn’t starve — not to mention so that it didn’t fall entirely on these good Samaritans to pay for all that expensive food.
It’s this kind of cooperative spirit that often permeates the Linn County Fair and livestock auction.
“The fair is not just about the animals,” Holt said. “It’s about the community and the family,”
She gave a more recent anecdote of the cooperation when she described how her son broke his wrist on Wednesday after horsing around with some other kids at the fairgrounds. In seconds, the many other 4-H moms and members of the “fair family” had his arm in a sling and were taking care of him.
“It’s a real family here,” she said, tearing up a little bit as she recalled the sense of community.
The highest-selling animal of the day was Weston Tenbusch’s grand champion lamb, which sold for a whopping $27,400, which amounts to $200 per pound. Other animals went for eye-popping prices, too, like Kaylee Silacci’s grand champion steer that went for more than $15,000.
“If these prices hold, this will be a good year for us,” said Hart, who speculated that the year off has led to a lot of buyers to go big in supporting these kids in 2021. “It’s a way of showing, ‘We’re here, we’re back and we’re ready to go.’”
Troy Shinn covers healthcare, natural resources and the Linn County government. He can be reached at 541-812-6114 or email@example.com. He can be found on Twitter at @troydshinn.