Saturday, July 17, 2010

Madison County Fair

The Madison County Fair has been going on since Wednesday of this week.  Madison is a very small, rural community north of C'ville and it's where my employer is based.  Last year, I convinced Understanding House Mate - who works for the same company I do - that the company should support the fair in a more visible way than just taking out an ad in the fair program.  We should buy an animal at the 4H/FFA livestock auction!

Many moons ago, I was involved in 4H and FFA.  I raised and showed market lambs and, one year, a market hog.  We didn't live on a farm but we were lucky enough to be in a rural area and we had friends with small, hobby farms where I could keep my animals.  To this day, I think it is one of the best experiences of my life.  4H and FFA are wonderful learning grounds for kids.  If you choose to do a market animal project, you take responsibility for all the aspects of that project - both financial and physical.  On a very basic level, you learn about budgeting, profit and loss and keeping tracking of your money.  You also learn a tremendous amount about the care and feeding of animals.  As a bonus, you make great friends and learn about team work and good sportsmanship too.

Last night was the livestock auction at the Madison County Fair.  Understanding House Mate and I went with a budget of $1,000, two spreadsheets of figures to help us determine what we could afford and a determination to buy something!  Well, buy something we did!  After sitting through the auction of baskets put together by various 4H clubs for fundraising and the beef cattle, the auction of market lambs began.  The first animal to sell is always the Grand Champion of that species for the fair.  This year's Grand Champion Market Lamb was a 116 pound, Suffolk-cross wether (castrated male sheep).  The bidding started at $2.00 a pound, Understanding House Mate joined the fray when the price hit $3.00 a pound and when the dust settled, she had bought the Grand Champion Market Lamb for $8.50 a pound!  This is the first year our company has participated in the livestock auction and we came away with a very nice buy.  The little girl who raised and exhibited the lamb is 9 years old and this was her very first 4H project!  She should net somewhere around $500, depending on what expenses are like these days.

Going to the county fair can be a real treat.  For my dog friends, I would urge you to go and watch the judging of the market animals.  Livestock judges are required to give a verbal critique of the class and their reasons for the placements - something I've often wished the dog show world would do.  The kids, as young as 9 years old, do a wonderful job of presenting their animals to best advantage through both the livestock and the showmanship classes.  Did you know if you win showmanship for your species (lamb, hog, dairy, beef, etc.) you go on to a grand champion class where you are expected to take turns showing an animal of every species?  How many of us could show a Cardi and then turn around and show a Yorkie or a Wolfhound with the same level of expertise?  These kids are amazing!  The livestock auction is fun to watch too.  There's always the first time exhibitor who gets teary-eyed selling their project animal and the senior who has been showing for 9 or 10 years who is showing for the last time.

It's county and state fair season - make time to support your local 4H and FFA clubs.


  1. As a person who was also a 4-H kid I have to chime in and say YES! Support local agriculture and 4-H! It's a wonderful opportunity for young people and teaches so much more than just about animals there is also a huge leadership aspect and many things that one has to learn. It's a great thing for kids of all ages!

  2. Dumb question time now from a city kid. What does your company do with lamb now? Make it a mascot? A spokes-lamb? Have a company lamb-b-que??

  3. Actually, a great question Janet. One that most of the people in our company asked too. There are a few options. We could take the lamb back to the office and try to convince it to eat all the grass on the property so we don't have to pay for landscaping but, that's not very practical :) Seriously, anyone purchasing an animal at a 4H/FFA auction has a few choices:
    1) Take the animal home. It's an expensive way to start a flock/herd/etc. though and a lot of times the animal is a castrated male so that doesn't really work.
    2) Make arrangements for the animal to be delivered to a local butcher, pay for the slaughter and get a freezer full of wonderful meat.
    3) Sell the animal back to the county fair at what is called the floor or buy-back price, based on the going price of livestock at big auctions. This is the most common option. The kid gets a check from the buyer and a few weeks later the buyer gets a check (much smaller) from the fair. The fair sells the animals to a feedlot or slaughter house.
    4) Some communities allow the buyer to donate the animal to a local food bank. I believe the buyer pays the butchering/wrapping costs but then the meat goes to the food bank.

  4. LOVED this post! As a former 4-Her myself (dairy goats, market lambs and market hogs) I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE county fairs. My best childhood memories all come from the many weeks I spent preparing for fair and then exhibiting at the many county and state fairs in our area.

    I did a lot of livestock judging as well and I agree that it would be a wonderful addition to the dog show world to require dog show judges to give verbal critiques of the animals.

  5. I was on the livestock judging team too! Talk about great experience with public speaking and being able to translate what you see into words - and do it persuasively. Even if you got the class placement wrong, if your reasons were well constructed, you could still get a decent score!

  6. I was a 4-H and FFAer, and fondly remember my years of market, and conformation lambs, rabbits, and a market steer. I wish I were still in that scene/still had access to it, and 'when I grow up' dream of owning and showing sheep again! It's such a great experience! FFA opens doors to so many things, even non-farming related. I was on parli pro, debate, sales, and speech team. Those have a HUGE impact on me now, having given me speaking, and communication skills I may have not obtained if I'd not been in a competitive setting with great teams.

    Soil, and livestock judging were awesome also. Soil judging was silly, and a little geeky, but I now have a super awesome garden from all the hammering that was done to learn about soils critiquing. Our FFA adviser was AWESOME, and my dog, cat, and rabbit 4-H leaders rocked too! People who I'll never, ever forget- which is something most 4-H/FFA alumni say when they grow up!

    Thanks for supporting the kids!

  7. Emily - Contact your local extension service about volunteering as a 4H leader. It's like anything else that relies on volunteers to get the work done, they won't turn you down!

  8. I was one of those kids that won showmanship with my lamb and went on to 'round robin' showmanship. I got to show a market steer, dairy heifer WITH HORNS, a market pig, halter horse and a goat. I actually won grand champion round robin. It was one of the best experiences of my life.