Despite the Rock County 4-H Fair being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, kids are still raising animals as their fans find creative ways to help them drum up funds and showcase their livestock.
The Meat Animal Sale for swine, sheep and steers will go on - online - thanks to the Rock County Agriculture Youth Supporters and Badger State Auction. With some of the kids having already sold their animals and arranged for a butcher date, the virtual event will be solely for raising funds for youth exhibitors with no actual meat sold.
“The sale is not to purchase the animal, but to donate to the kids’ future education funds or to reinvest in animals for next year,” said Leanne Hoffman with Rock County Agriculture Youth Supporters.
Organizers sent out a google link to advisers of Rock County 4-H Clubs and FFA groups alerting them of the opportunity. Kids who wish to participate can sign up at the following link:
Organizers are asking for one submission per child, not per animal, and hoping 150 to 200 youth will participate.
The group also sent letters to 400 area buyers who typically frequent the sale including longtime supporters such as Seneca Foods, Jake’s Electric, E&D Waterworks and Woodman’s Food Market.
Buyers will be able to view auction items starting July 15, and the bidding will begin on Monday, July 27 at 8 a.m. through Friday, July 31 at noon. Registration has been extended for the kids through July 6 at 6 p.m.
Sponsorships start at $200.
In a normal year, Leanne Hoffman said, about 500 animals get sold at the meat animal sale. When COVID-19 hit, she said many farm families debated whether to take on the risk of raising animals.
After it was announced the fair was cancelled, many youth rushed to get slaughter times booked. Some youth had trouble finding slots and had to book as far out as January, meaning they will have to keep their ever-growing meat animals for longer resulting in added workload and expense. Some farm families may not be well equipped for keeping their animals into the winter. With so many challenges, area farmers wanted to help.
“The kids put a lot of hard work, passion and money into raising these animals every year. A fair share of the kids come from small family farms. It was definitely a risk that families took to purchase animals, but worth the responsibility and work. As a community so many have come together to provide other opportunities for these kids, which is outstanding,” Leanne Hoffman said.
Although the event is not for buying meat, organizers have committed to helping youth find buyers and butchers if they need assistance.
Leanne Hoffman’s daughters - Abbey Hoffman, 11, and sister Hailey Hoffman, 13 - each raised two pigs they were planning on taking to the fair.
When the girls heard the fair was cancelled, they were heartbroken. Hailey Hoffman had walked her pigs twice a day, getting up as early as 5 a.m. to tend to them. The girls spent countless hours training their pigs to room together in their pen as well as be successfully separated for walks in preparation for their showing.
“These animals are like your best friend all summer long,” Hailey Hoffman said.
In addition to the online sale to drum up funds, Jayson and Courtney Butts are planning a swine exposition; Rock County Beef Producers, a beef exposition; and Rock County Sheep producers, a sheep exposition. The private shows, which will run July 28-30 on the fairgrounds, will be designed primarily for kids and their families to give youth the chance to get their animals judged.
Attendees will adhere to social distancing requirements, and the hogs, for example, will be moved from the hog barn to stock pavilion for more space
“We are doing all we can to create an opportunity for those kids. This is one year they’ll never get back,” Jayson Butts said. “When there are struggles, farmers rally together and the best happens.”
Courtney Mullooly, a La Prairie 4-H member and Clinton High School graduate, said she is thankful for the online event and the expo, especially as it's her last year to show a steer this summer.