For the second consecutive year, bidders at the annual Bartholomew County 4-H Livestock Sale were willing to fork over money without receiving an animal in return.
Known as a ‘premium-only’ sale, last year’s event was received so positively by the bidders that it was done again this year with 190 animals, Livestock Sale committee chairman Becky Speaker said. Saturday’s sale attracted 99 bidders — slightly less than last year’s event.
Nevertheless, the generosity was impressive. The livestock sale brought in 17% more revenue for 4-H exhibitors than last year. Saturday’s event garnered a total of $225,425, up from $193,205 in 2021.
While bidder Greg Daily expressed amazement at how much money is still handed over to the 4-H members, the owner of Daily Feed and Grain in Petersville also knows what is at stake. Daily understands that many young adults from farm families are seeking careers outside of agriculture, which opens the doors wider for corporate farming.
“For all agriculture-related businesses, the family farms are their lifeline,” Daily said. “These businesses know the importance of getting the next generation involved in farming. It’s real important that everybody make a big push to try to keep the family farms alive.”
Other factors are also at play. Early last year, livestock yards began to phase out feed additives like Paylean or Optaflexx, in order to comply with a ban from China and other countries. Stockyards suddenly became hesitant to take 4-H pigs, which Speaker says appears to remain a concern this year.
“It’s hard to get a packer to buy this many animals anymore,” said bidder Don Coombs. The term ‘packer’ refers to a person or company engaged in processing meat and distributing it to retailers.
Making matters even more complicated is the entire U.S. meat packing industry, which has become dominated by a few global companies, according to multiple news reports. Agricultural economists say pandemic-stoked demand for meat has exposed a shortage of slaughterhouse capacity, especially in beef.
Nevertheless, bidders at Saturday’s livestock auction are told they can work with the 4-H exhibitor and their family to discuss all available options regarding the animal, Speaker said.
The 4-H Fair Board will be forming a new committee to examine different ways to improve the livestock sale in the future, auctioneer Mike Mensendiek announced. Topics that will be examined by the new group include new ways of raising revenue to help compensate farm families facing significant increases in feed and grain prices, Speaker said.
“We also want to talk about attracting more bidders to the livestock show,” she added.
Pulling double-duty during Saturday’s auction as both bidder and event volunteer was Carl Lienhoop, chairman of the Bartholomew County Commissioners. Lienhoop admitted he was originally a bit surprised last year when the livestock auction became a premium-only sale.
“But this community has always been supportive of the 4-H program, and in the end, it looked like the best alternative for everyone,” Lienhoop said. He said the 4-H experience “can make an average child a great kid, and make those who are already great become ‘super’ kids.” Other youth organizations such as sports leagues also create ways that help young people become quality adults, the commissioner said.
While the show was going on next door, the atmosphere in the livestock barn was more somber. After the exhibitors finished with the auction process, many of them immediately cleared out their pen, loaded up their animals and headed home with their families. Watching the livestock barn gradually empty is a sad experience for tenured 4-H members. Emily Harker, 19, says the trophies, ribbons and banners she’s won over her 10-year period in 4-H have a limited appeal.
“The best memories are not winning competitions,” said Harker, who will be a sophomore at Purdue University next month. “It’s being in the barn late at night, where we’ve had dance parties. Club members are so helpful in cleaning up stuff and assisting with animals.”
Brooklynn Romine, a nine-year 4-H member, also says her favorite thing about the fair is spending time with her friends and “doing what I love.” The Columbus East High School student is referring to showing pigs in recent years, as well as goats when she was younger.
But when the 17-year-old daughter of Bart and Sheri Romine was asked about the program one year from now, she said she’s too busy thinking about what’s happening at this moment to worry how she’ll feel next summer.
Bartholomew County 4-H Fair Queen Marnie Schwartzkopf, who became a tenured 4-H member in 2021, said watching others show their animals while knowing she can no longer compete made her miss the program. She described leaving 4-H as a “bittersweet experience.”
“But it also makes you real excited to move on to the next chapter of your life, and kind of see what’s out there,” Schwartzkopf said.
As the morning auction was beginning to wind down on the last day of the nine-day event, fair board president Rick Trimpe said everything ran smoothly — with one exception.
The only major attraction impacted by rain this year was the Bartholomew County Farm Stock Tractor Pull on June 26. The last half of the event had to be cancelled due to the weather, Trimpe said.
While the fair board president says the fair drew good crowds this year, nobody should expect attendance numbers to be as high as last year.
“It’s not surprising with the high gas prices and inflation,” Trimpe said. “Everybody is trying to save their money.”
Bartholomew County 4-H Livestock Auction Champion sale prices
Grand Champion Barrow: Laynie Greene, daughter of Ben and Ashley Harker. 242 lbs. $3,000 — KAL Enterprises
Grand Champion Beef Steer: Luke Kerkhof, son of Bill and Lesa Kerkhof. 1,324 lbs. $4,000 — KAL Enterprises
Grand Champion Dairy Steer: Dilyn Wiseman, son of Eric and Danielle Wiseman. 1,615 lbs. $1,750 — Columbus Industrial Electric, Inc.
Bartholomew County Young Farmers Ice Cream: $4,000 sale price. Buyer: Landmark Farms and the Whittington family. Bartholomew County Rural Youth matches $3.000, bringing the total to $7,000. All proceeds placed in the Vicki Schwartzkopf Scholarship Fund. Family member Kristen Whittington was one of the first recipients of the scholarship established after a car accident killed the 18-year-old Schwartzkopf on June 15, 1984.
Grand Champion Market Lamb: Eliza Whiteside, daughter of Ben and Jenny Whiteside. 97 lbs. $2,250 — Whittington Family.
Grand Champion Rabbit Meat Pen: Leana Shrader, daughter of Allison and Travis Shrader. $1,100 — Weatherald Group.
Grand Champion Poultry Meat Pen: Elijah Ratliff, son of Jennifer Ratliff and Justn Ratliff. $1,300 — Weatherald Group.
Historic Livestock Sales totals
2020: $108,000 (online auction)
Sale prices at a glance
Total 4-H members at auction: 197
Total number of registered buyers: 119 (with 14 new buyers registered).
Total amount raised (all premium): $225,425
Top buyers: KAL Enterprises; Landmark Farms and the Shorty Whittington family; Columbus Silgas; TRICO Farm Supply, Tom Reuter of Tom Reuter Crop Insurance; Bartholomew County REMC; Culver’s Restaurant; Gary Meyer of Pioneer Seed and Meyer Crop Insurance; and M-Hart Express (Jarod and Katie Gearhart).