Emily Jo Cureton, The Triplicate

Livestock-raiserssweat it out untilthe bidding's done

While the hubbub outside rattled the metal walls, a quiet kind of anticipation welled from within the livestock pavilions at noon on Sunday.

There was just one hour to go - one hour that was nearly a year in the making for those who raised animals to sell at the Junior Livestock Auction during this year's Del Norte County Fair.

Nine-year-old Rebecca Martinez perched on a metal railing, eyes fixed on the first animal she'd ever raised for auction, a 130-pound sheep named Snowball that took Grange Reserve Champion.

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Andrew Napier gave a final brushing to his 1,292-pound steer, which won an award for fattening up the fastest. After 10 years as a 4H-er, Bud was Napier's last project.

Like 79 other kids who participated in the annual event, Martinez and Napier daily tended and fed their animals from just after birth to market.

About two weeks before the auction, the young sellers start sending flyers to buyers from previous years, mostly local businesses. Usually, buyers have already eyed the animals well before an auctioneer's call sets off that rush of blood to the signaling hand.

By 12:30 p.m. Sunday, more and more people were strolling among the pens of prized pigs, goats, steers, rabbits, sheep and turkeys. Numerous signs reminded everyone that rabbits bite. And as buyers returned from their annual luncheon, the hushed tension of a half-hour ago was replaced by a flurry of voices. Pigs the size of sofas slept like stones all the same.

Alex Olson waited the last stretch out with his goat Dough Boy III, the overall Grand Champion goat, whose form fit his name.

The fifth year 4H-er hoped to get $4 for each of his animal's 101 pounds. That price would pay for the cost of keeping it for nine months, plus $100 in profits.

"I've tried to give him a good life and he's going to sort of give me a better life now," Olson said of the process.

Besides agricultural club projects, his family keeps all kinds of animals. Real quick he listed "two horses, two mini horses, a couple of dogs, a couple of cats, chickens, turkeys, guinea hens, rabbits and chicks. And a turtle."

"We're more in it to keep the kids busy and teach them responsibility about life and working, versus trying to win," said Grange parent Roger Boulby.

But this year his 15-year-old daughter Nicole Boulby got the best of both worlds, winning a Grand Championship for her 1,246-pound steer, Snowflake.

She cued up right at 1 p.m., along with eight other Grand Champions.

"We are trying to make high quality meat for you," Junior Livestock Auction Committee Chairman Blake Alexandre announced to the crowd as he opened up the big event.

Then the auctioneer unleashed his fugue. Each seller led his or her animal front and center for hundreds of eyes.

When bidding came a little slow for Olson's Dough Boy III, the auctioneer punctuated his trilling numbers with a flat push: "This is a grand champion goat. This isn't quite right."

That did the trick. The goat sold for $6 a pound, $2 more per pound than Olson aimed to recoup.

Then Andrew Napier stepped into the ring, wearing the crisp white and green of 4H for the last time. His steer fetched $3 a pound.

"It will be weird going to a fair and not having an animal, not waking up at 5 a.m. to clean out stalls," he mused. He's off to UC Merced in the fall.

A few spots later, Rebecca Martinez entered the ring for the first time, moving her little feet quick to keep Snowball the sheep steady.

Look for complete results from the fair in an upcoming special section of the Triplicate.

Reach Emily Jo Cureton at ecureton@triplicate.com.