“Four and a half. 475! 475 ... 500 ... They worked all year. They’ll need a paycheck,” said the auctioneer into the microphone at the La Plata County Fair Junior Auction.
“Sold! 500 bucks,” he said.
Nothing was normal at the 2020 fair because of the coronavirus pandemic, but for many young farmers, the auction was a bustling, lucrative success.
While some communities canceled their county or state fairs because of the coronavirus pandemic, La Plata County’s approach was to focus on the youths. 4-H and Future Farmers of America livestock shows and the Junior Auction are the only in-person events. Most others were canceled. Organizers weren’t sure they could pull off a pandemic-adapted fair, but the end of the week brought a sense of success.
“Collectively, all of us 4-H’ers were really worried about, are we going to be able to do it? How is it going to work?” said Angela Fountain with the Colorado State University Extension Office. “We had to change out a lot of different things, like the schedule and the requirements. In the end, I think it went really well.”
Unlike previous years, the junior livestock shows were spread over five days. Instead of gathering at the fairgrounds to present non-livestock projects, young 4-H members did interviews via video conference.
People were asked to wear face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, although few did during the open-air event. Junior Auction buyers had to pre-register for the first time.
“We thought pre-registration went well, but the way things are going tonight, we’re having a lot more buyers come forward,” said Lorene Bonds, superintendent of livestock. “We’re excited about that.”
Almost 300 people gathered in the fairgrounds Pavilion on Saturday to watch county fair royalty get crowned and 4-H Club members present their livestock and non-livestock projects. Buyers prepared their bidding cards. Kids too young to compete ran around in cowboy hats and boots – one even wandering into the center livestock enclosure in the middle of pre-auction events.
County fair royalty from 2019 passed on their tiaras before the auction. For the 2019 queen, Dakota Wood, an 18-year-old former Durango High School Student, the moment was bittersweet.
“I’m super excited for the girls coming up, but we had a rough year. It kind of got cut short,” Wood said.
Fair royalty normally participate in about 30 events, like parades and cattlemen banquets, before passing their crowns onto the next recipients. Most of those events didn’t happen this year, she said.
“It’s awesome that the fair board made sure we could have a fair. We got lucky. A lot of kids didn’t have that,” Wood said.
During the auction, buyers bid on 99 items. For the young farmers, this was the culmination of months of work – and the opportunity to earn money for next year’s livestock projects, hobbies and college savings.
The grand champion and reserve champion livestock were first on the list. All of the animals earned more than their average price; some doubled it.
Maryann Fassett, an 11-year-old Bayfield student, was excited with the amount her grand champion lamb received, about $20 per pound or about $3,000 total. The average price for a lamb is $9 per pound.
Melidy Dahl, a 12-year-old Bayfield student, felt great about receiving $15 per pound for her market sheep, but the tears came after she stepped out of the ring. It was time for goodbye to her lamb, Garth, named after singer Garth Brooks.
“It was hard,” Melidy said. “Just the time that you’ve spent with those animals and what they’ve brought to you.”
Melidy wasn’t the only one who had a hard time saying goodbye. Bristol Lesky, a 9-year-old student at the Hope Community Christian Academy in Ignacio, shed a few tears after saying goodbye to her reserve champion steer, Blindy.
“It’s hard to lose him. He was better than my one that wasn’t blind. I liked his attitude ... he never gave up,” Bristol said.
Mackenzie Swanemyr, 11, another academy student, won grand champion market beef at the fair with her steer, Oliver. It wasn’t fun to say goodbye, she said. But successfully selling her steer was also a positive experience – especially as a young farmer excited to get started on next year’s livestock project.
“It’s pretty cool that we’re providing food for other people,” Mackenzie said. “I’m going to miss him, but I know I’m going to get more money for my next year project.”