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Livestock auction creates real-life lessons of economics

Scot Pearson | The Vidette  Linghong Schoch, guides her champion steer around the ring giving bidders an opportunity to see what a champion 1,158 pound steer looks like.
Scot Pearson | The Vidette Linghong Schoch, guides her champion steer around the ring giving bidders an opportunity to see what a champion 1,158 pound steer looks like.

ELMA — Buyers at the annual Grays Harbor 4-H and FFA Livestock Auction on Saturday found themselves facing the lowest number of steer up for auction in more than a decade as high-schoolers simply can’t afford to tend to the larger animals or handle the upfront costs to take care of them.

For the past two years, there have only been three steer up for auction. This year there were just two. That compares to a string as few as nine steer or as many as 14 steer between 2002 and 2008, according to history data provided by the auction. Since then, however, the numbers have sharply declined — a likely victim of the economic recession.

With so few steer up for auction, Linghong Schoch thought she had scored a huge scholarship payday.

Instead, because the buyer misunderstood the rules, Schoch wasn’t necessarily heartbroken, but she was surprised. She says she’ll still compete next year.

Schoch, a first-year Critter Crew 4-H member and a freshman at Montesano, brought out her champion steer for the annual auction. The woman who bought her steer thought she was paying $285 for the entire steer. But it was actually $2.85 per pound, which would have added up to a hair more than $3,300. The woman balked at paying that price and the steer went back to auction, going for $2.50 a pound — a 35-cents-a-pound difference, equating to a $405.30 loss going toward her efforts in raising the steer.

At first, the gathered crowd was confused when Schoch once again paraded the same prize-winning steer back onto the auction block, but seasoned auctioneer Dave Fenton quickly explained the misunderstanding that the bidder thought they were paying $285 for the entire animal, not bidding per pound, and got the second round of bids rising rapidly.

But the highest price per pound for a market steer went to Colby Trusty of Elma FFA and her 1,077-pound red ribbon steer at $3.25. That works out to about $3,500.

That compares to an average price last year of $2.77 per pound.

Even with the beef numbers dropping by one, the increase of the small animals at the auction brought an overall increase to the market by 15 animals across the auction block.

“We had 53 final exhibitors, with 55 animals this year,” said Elma FFA spokeswoman Christi Kershaw. “We have more market hogs and small animals. We have been trying to get kids more involved in the smaller animals and had chickens and rabbits as well as lambs and goats.”

For Wyatt Carter, his last year attending the auction after eight years raising hogs for the Elma FFA, his champion weighed in at 285-pounds selling at $7.25 per pound, sold to Les Schwab of Aberdeen, Heron Street.

“This is something I have always done (the FFA), grew up with it, but now its time for the younger kids to have a turn. I have kinda had a rivalry with Wyatt Gray, we have always competed against each other,” said Carter.

Gray, who had a Reserve champion, raised a 264-pound hog that was up third on the auction block.

The Critter Crew 4-H champion raised by Albert Swalander was just a few pounds lighter than Carter’s at 273 but caught the highest bid at $8.25 per pound that went to Les Schwab also.

Over the years, market hogs have averaged in weight between 240 -256 pounds, fairly consistant, with the 2013 average weight at 256, but the average price per pound has steadly increased. In 2002, the price was $2.47 and was starting to climb, the price took a small dip in 2005, but just as quickly jumped back over $2.70 for the 2006 auction. The 2012 price averaged $4.78 for a 252-pound cob roller. Market hogs seem to be growing, in price per pound, at an average of $2.44 over the past seven years.

Kendra Bailey of Elma FFA was a repeat co-champion with her lamb going for $9.25 per pound — well over the average of $6.58 last year sharing the championship spot with Critter Crew member Grace Geer. Double Blue ribbon winner Tiana Cox, of Elma FFA was able to match the weight of champion Bailey in her second year raising lambs for the fair.

“I get my lambs at about 5-6 months old. Its a real companionship with the lamb, but I do not get too close because I know where they will end up,” said Cox.

Like any animal in the 4-H or FFA program, the main purpose is to get youth interested and involved in the marketing, caring and business of raising livestock. And, for some, it is a way to put a few dollars into a college fund or get that summer mad money.

Market lamb prices are at an all time average high this year at $7.50 per pound. Historically, what looks like a simple over supply driving down the average price per pound, may not be the case for the Grays Harbor County Fair. In 2008, 24 lambs brought in an average of $4.49 but two years later, 22 lambs went for $3.40, over a one dollar drop. And lambs are suffering a similar plight as steer with the number of entries dwindling. The average number of market lambs crossing the auction block from 2002-2010 was 17. For the past two years, only six have been entered.

Turkeys brought a lot of attention as each one of the three crossing the auction block were turned and turned again, meaning that once sold, they were re-auctioned, up to three times. Bidders from Les Schwab, always on hand to support the kids at the fair auction, took turns bidding, winning and then turning the bird back to the auctioneer, who sold it once again. For the kids, it means more money against their livestock investment, for business, its a way to help promote the program and in effect, give a donation.

All the birds were from 4-H members, Brady Bunch or Sea Horses and sold for an average of $344 per bird. Brothers Dave and Dustin Downing having the champion and reserve winners set the mark with Dave’s champion bird bringing in a total of $410 for his three rounds. Sea Horse 4-H member Tyler Jones was the third bird in the turkey lots.

“I have to say that the community is very supportive of our auction,” Kershaw said. “Businesses are very positive and say that no matter what the economy does, they will be there to support the kids.”

Overall, the average weight of the market animals offered was slightly down, but the average price per pound was higher. In total, the auction generated over $76,000 for the participants with NDC Timber as the top buyer.

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