Generosity was in abundant supply when the Livestock Auction closed out the 4-H portion of the 60th annual Bartholomew County 4-H Fair.

Brad Paetzel’s grand champion beef steer sold Saturday for $5,500, four times its market value. That’s $1,200 more than last year’s champion steer brought.

What made Shelby Materials’ high bid for the Hope teen’s animal even more exceptional is that beef prices are the lowest they have been in three years and are not expected to rise anytime soon, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Total auction proceeds of $271,671 were about 3 percent higher than last year’s $264,097.

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Another example of this year’s bidder generosity was a five-gallon bucket of homemade ice cream made by the Bartholomew County Young Farmers sold to Grammar Industries, Inc. for $2,500.

The Young Farmers organization will match Grammar’s contribution, with all proceeds going to benefit the organization’s annual Vicki Schwartzkopf scholarship fund.

Although 4-H exhibitors had been the focus during competitions held earlier in the week, the Livestock Auction is where fair youth learn the business of farming, organizers said.

For that reason, it is the bidders who get VIP treatment during the auction.

Most farm families stood quietly behind the bleachers to ensure buyers felt neither crowded or distracted. The arena itself was sized down and the bleachers repositioned in a crescent shape to give each buyer the best possible view.

A number of new bidders at this year’s auction was seen as an encouraging sign for the future, event chairwoman Becky Speaker said.

Tom Reuter of Fairland-based Reuter Crop Insurance LLC, a relatively new buyer in Bartholomew County, said he attends 4-H livestock auctions in three states each year.

Along with many other bidders, Reuter said he is extending a form of reciprocity to farm families who are regular customers.

“I’m in the goodwill business,” he said. “But mostly, I think the bidders want the kids to know we appreciate all their hard work, and to make sure they are rewarded for that.”

In contrast, Charles “Red” Whittington is the longest-running local bidder. Now 95, Whittington was among the original buyers at the first 4-H livestock auction in 1958, Speaker said.

Today’s bidders come from all walks of life.

Dr. Dan Davis of Southern Indiana OBGYN has been buying livestock at the event for the past 18 years.

“When I was growing up, my uncle was a pig farmer,” Davis said. “He got me started in 4-H when I was in about fourth or fifth grade and supplied a pig for me. I raised pigs all the way up through college, and used the money to pay for my schooling. So I’m just trying to give back what I was given.”

It’s not just bidders and exhibitors who are made to feel appreciated during the livestock sale.

Veteran auctioneer B. Parker Newsom Jr. received a big hand when he stepped forward for the 49th consecutive year to sell off most of the grand champions.

But it was Emma Wischmeier, who was the 2016 Supreme Showman in the Beef, Sheep, Swine and Dairy division, who received the longest and most enthusiastic applause during the auction.

After leading her 1,264-pound beef cow out of the arena for her final 4-H appearance, the daughter of Louis and Holly Wischmeier was struggling to hold back her emotions.

“It’s really hard because I’ve had so many good experiences,” Wischmeier said of her 10 years in 4-H. “It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of time, but it pays off in multitudes.”

Perhaps no one was more touched by Wischmeier’s final appearance than the woman who leads Bartholomew County’s 4-H program, Purdue Extension Cooperative director Elisabeth Smith.

“You have to remember that 10-year members like Emma have spent more than half their lives doing this,” Smith said. “It becomes a part of who they are.”

Although Wischmeier said she tends to have a special bond with the cows she has raised, first-year exhibitor Sam Williams can’t say the same about the 312-pound American Landrace pig he has been caring for since March.

“You think it’s going to be easy, but it’s not,” said Williams, who will be a freshman at Columbus East High School this fall. “There is a lot of stuff to do. And once you get done, you feel kind of relieved.”

Similar feelings were expressed by two sisters who also show swine.

Alayna Peters, 11, and Kyla Peters, 9, said they feel a little sad saying goodbye to their swine.

But now that the responsibility is behind them, the daughters of Steven and Debbie Peters said they both are looking forward to enjoying other summertime activities.

Top showmen

Seven members of the Bartholomew County 4-H Club were judged expert showmen in eight respective categories. The names of the two recipients of the Supreme Showmanship honors are in bold type below.

  • Beef – Jack Rosenberger
  • Sheep – Layne Hoeflinger
  • Swine – Makenna Jackson
  • Dairy – Josie Burbrink
  • Goat – Abby Meier
  • Rabbit – Jenna Boewe
  • Poultry – Brendan Boewe
  • Horse and Pony – Sarah Krebs

Totals raised

The following shows the total amount raised this year during the annual Bartholomew County 4-H Livestock Sale, as well as a historic account of amounts raised in earlier years.

  • 2017: $271,671
  • 2016: $264,097
  • 2015: $310,304
  • 2014: $302,484
  • 2013: $291,395

2017 Livestock Sale at a glance

  • Total amount raised: $271,671
  • Total animals sold: 279
  • Total market value: $59,320
  • Premium amount raised: $212,351
  • Top Buyers: Trico Farm Supply, Tallman Equipment, Columbus Silgas, Reuter Crop Insurance, Innovative Casting Technologies, Bob Poynter Chrysler Dodge Jeep, Growers Farm Service.
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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.