Hard work and early hours. Showing livestock at fair isn’t as easy as it might seem

Beyond the lights from the Stanislaus County Fair rides, food stands and various booths offering trinkets after a successful game, lies a world of its own: the livestock shows.

Here, hundreds of kids and adults bring their cattle, rabbits, sheep, goats, swine and various other animals to show them off with hopes of bringing home some cash. This year, over 1,250 livestock were on the grounds, and about 1,000 of those will go to auction on Saturday.

The number is down from last year, due to the cancellation of the poultry show at the fair, which typically brings around 250 entries, because of concern about Newcastle disease in Northern California.

The auctions, which take place in two separate rings on the fairgrounds, encapsulate hundreds of buyers and sellers all day as hard-working auctioneers work to sell the animals for the best price for their meat. Market prices vary; swine are priced at 48 cents per pound, beef at 98 cents, lamb at $1.40 and meat goats at $2.50. Oftentimes, though, the animals are sold at above-market prices.

One indicator of their value can be the animals’ placement in a class earlier in the week. These market classes are split by species, with each animal having to keep in a certain weight range to qualify.

“If the animal is just below or just above that weight range, they are bumped out and cannot compete or be sold at the auction,” the fair’s Chelsea Maddox said.

  • Market beef must be between 1,000 and 1,450 pounds
  • Market swine — 215 to 280 pounds
  • Market sheep — 110 to 160 pounds
  • Market meat goats — 70 to 115 pounds

Not every animal has to be sold at Saturday’s auction, the only exception being those that earn champion or reserve champion in the market divisions. Additionally, if an owner brings more than one animal to the fair, they can only auction off one.

The most popular livestock animal at the fair is the swine, with over 400 set to be at the auction.

“It’s an all-day event, even with the two rings and the auctioneers going so quickly,” Maddox said.

The auction is considered the culmination of the livestock show, as several showmanship and market classes take place throughout the week. Those taking place in such classes are high-school-aged Future Farmers of America (FFA) Club or 4-H members, along with some independent participants as well, each split into their respective divisions.

“We’re here to show the public at a fair like this that we are good stewards for animals,” said Nancy Miguel, an adviser for Enochs High School’s FFA Club.

Miguel has been in the game for over 30 years, and she knows the trials and tribulations that come with raising farm animals.

“I grew up working summers out in the fields,” she said. “My dad would always make sure we didn’t eat until our animals were fed. We didn’t do anything extra for ourselves until our animals were taken care of.”

Hoping to instill her experiences and prowess for the field in future generations, Miguel also teaches agriculture at Enochs. Between teaching and advising for the FFA chapter, she hopes the lessons are learned both in and out of the classroom.

“We can teach the kids the importance of taking care of something, versus just concentrating on themselves or their phone,” she said.

During the fair, Miguel expects her students to arrive before sunrise and leave only when everything is done.

“This morning, I got here at 4:30 a.m.,” said Aaron Seely, a recent graduate from Enochs. Seely showed one of Miguel’s dairy cows on Wednesday, placing fourth in FFA intermediate showmanship, a division where the handlers are judged on their ability to show a cow at their very best.

His first tasks of the day included an initial clean of the cow and her bedding, then a second clean at around 9 a.m. in which he used baby powder and a special spray to make the cow glisten.

By 11 a.m., Seely was in the ring, along with fellow Enochs grad Trinity Mejias, who was showing another of Miguel’s dairy cows in the division.

“This year I felt confident because I know more about how she works and what to expect from her,” Mejias said about the cow she showed and placed third in the division. Though she had experience showing the cow last year, Mejias said she didn’t know how much effort it would take to gain that show-ring confidence.

“I was out with her at least two days a week, working with her, practicing with her,” she said. “It was really hard at first because she would run away and not want anything to do with me, but soon she grew to know me and know what to expect from me.”

Both Mejias and Seely showed the cows for their last time, as an auction at the end of the week will determine their futures.

“It makes me sad, but it’s part of the business,” Seely said.

For Mejias, it has taught her to appreciate the work that goes into placing food on the table for someone else.

“There’s definitely a lot of people who don’t necessarily understand the process of what it takes to raise these animals or what we do for these animals to put food on people’s plates,” she said. “You can always learn something. There are so many perspectives on agriculture.”

The rest of the week at the fair brings more livestock judging on Thursday, the master showmanship divisions and beef sales on Friday, auctions on Saturday and final showmanship divisions and awards on Sunday.

Mackenzie Shuman is a summer news intern for The Modesto Bee. She originally hails from Colorado Springs, Colorado, but goes to school at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication where she is studying Journalism with a minor in Political Science.
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