The ending was never in doubt.After months of raising and caring for her goats, walking them, grooming them and training them in preparation for the
The ending was never in doubt.
After months of raising and caring for her goats, walking them, grooming them and training them in preparation for the Johnson County 4-H and Agricultural Fair, Gracie Morris had a connection to her animals. She named them, knew their personalities and worked out how to best approach the animal.
But as a 10-year 4-Her, she also understood the business of agriculture. At the close of the fair, it would be time to sell her goats to the highest bidder.
“It’s a weird thing to come to terms with over the years,” said Morris, 18. “Starting out, I thought of them as my pets, as my friends. But over the years, it’s been a big family lesson, where we’ve learned that these are market animals, and we’re raising it specifically to be sold for its meat.”
The annual livestock auction ties a bow on the 4-H portion of the Johnson County fair. After the competitions are done, kids have the opportunity to sell their animals, generating money for next year’s project or saving it for college.
Even though it can be difficult to part with their animals, 4-Hers know that’s part of the process, and are grateful to have the chance to earn money for their hard work.
“I buy my animals, I help buy the feed, so I have those costs. At the end, the donors that come out and support the livestock auction, giving money for my project, it shows how much the work you put into it is worth,” said Jenna Kelsay, a nine-year 4-Her from Whiteland. “Then you can use that money to go back to next year’s project. It keeps feeding on itself.”
The livestock auction serves as a main fundraiser for the 4-H competitors in the county.
In 2019, the auction raised more than $276,000 for local kids selling steers, hogs, goats, rabbits and market lambs. The grand champion beef steer and reserve grand champion dairy steer, raised by Brittany Porter and Trevor Sichting respectively, each went for $3,300.
Last year, the in-person auction was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and 4-Hers had to arrange animal sales on their own. To be back having an official livestock auction is a relief, said Cole Campbell, 18, a 10-year 4-Her from rural Franklin.
Campbell’s family has been deeply ingrained in the agriculture community in Johnson County, and 4-H has been a rite of passage for his older siblings.
In showing beef in the livestock projects, he’s learned countless lessons about the nature of raising animals and importance of the process.
“I was always raised that it’s not all about the competition of the program and to not get caught up in that. It’s the experience of taking care of the animal,” he said. “That all circles back to the livestock auction, going through that producer experience.”
For Campbell, the work of preparing for the fair is almost a year-round process. He’ll choose a calf to work with in the fall, either from his family’s own stock, or he’ll buy it from another producer. He has to spend weeks training the animal to follow him when he leads it, and to stand correctly so it can be judged.
Choosing the correct feed, properly grooming and making cosmetic preparations are also important as the year progresses.
That culminates with the auction. Campbell goes into the sale with the mindset that he needs to put his animal’s best qualities forward to attract buyers.
“Those days before the auction, you’re caring for your calf like you always would. It’s just a different type of show, I suppose,” he said.
Kelsay, 17, has been showing dairy cows, meat goats and pigs throughout her time at 4-H. During that time, she’s learned a wealth of life lessons and skills to be applied in college and her future career, whatever that might be.
Getting livestock ready for the fair, and in best position for the auction, is a full-time job. Kelsay spends every day of her spring and summer getting her animals ready — waking up early to feed and walk and care for.
“I usually get my livestock around spring break in March, and take care of them all through school. But summer is when we really start practicing a lot more,” she said.
The livestock auction is something she’s done every year. Considering the time commitment that goes into it, it would be natural to feel connected to her animals, and Kelsay does. But she also understands why she’s doing that work in the first place.
“My very first year in 4-H, it was hard to sell my pig. But as I’ve grown up, that’s part of it. That’s the industry I’m involved in, and that’s why we raise these animals,” she said.
Morris has shown goats for all 10 years of her time in 4-H. Starting a few months before the fair, she works with her animals on the family farm in the Bargersville area, walking them and getting them used to being on a lead. Her goats wear a collar similar to the kind you’d have on a dog, and Morris spends weeks acclimating the animals to the feel of it while she walks.
She also works with them on “setting up,” or making sure their legs are positioned correctly so the animals can be judged.
“Then we have to wash them and clip them, things like that,” she said.
Morris has done the livestock auction every year since she started in 4-H, selling her first two market animals in 2012. Understanding the process has been difficult, especially when she was a child. But the experience has helped her better grasp the livestock world, and ensured her the time she spends with her animals is appreciated.
“We want to care for them and give them the best life they can have, but this is their purpose. And that’s OK. It’s why they’re here,” she said. “It’s a neat process, especially for kids, because it’s as close as you can get to the meat market, and it’s a very misunderstood thing.”