Letting go at the Howard County 4-H livestock fair

Cecilia Winkler has been selling animals at the 4-H livestock sale at the Howard County Fair since she was 10 years old. This year, she was determined not to let herself cry.

"I sold a pig first," said Cecilia. "It was very emotional. I cried a lot, more than you would think. Especially for a pig."


She has shed a tear at every livestock sale since, mainly because of the connection to a steer she would sell.

Last year she sold a steer, pig, lamb and goat. This year, she decided to sell only her lamb, Ryder, and pig, Bacon.


"I downgraded a lot," said the 15-year-old sophomore at Glenelg High School Friday night, a couple of hours before the livestock sale inside the Show Pavilion at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship. "I can't cry that much."

She vowed not to cry this year, and didn't.

"Once you get older you understand the concept that God put all creatures on this earth for a purpose," said Cecilia. "The pig is for bacon and ham; all the things that Americans love."

All told, there were 110 pigs, 54 sheep, 32 steers, 29 goats and a handful of rabbits and chickens auctioned for a record gross of $343,305, fair officials said. Nearly 300 people registered as potential buyers.

The livestock sale is a "market project" for 4-H members, said Chuck Coles, chairman of the 4-H Livestock Sale Committee. "It teaches them marketing skills."

Sales said each 4-Her "has to be in control of the animal for the entire project. The animal's care is exclusively theirs."

The 4-Her must keep a detailed record book of any costs made to support the animal, and also show that the animal has gained weight in an orderly manner.

The project time for lambs, goats and pigs is approximately four months. For steers it normally is 10 to 11 months. Many 4Hers send out letters prior to the sale to potential buyers, usually family friends and businesses, hoping they will attend and buy.

Cecilia was 12 when she got her first steer.

"You get a big connection because it is very time consuming," she said. "You need to work with them every day."

Cecilia's sister, Lexi, a 17-year-old senior at Glenelg, and brother, Jeffrey, 12, a seventh-grader at Glenwood Middle, also are active in 4-H. Lexi sold a steer and pig Friday night and Jeffrey sold a steer, pig and goat.

"With steers, you have to work with them all the time and that's why you get attached, and that's when it all goes downhill," said Lexi. "That's when it gets emotional."


"It's nice to have an animal around to be friends with," Jeffrey said about his steer. "If I can't walk him around I scratch his head and hang out with him. If you're friendly with them they'll listen to you because they think you're their friend."

Each 4-Her participating in the sale wears a white shirt and khaki pants. They bring their animal into a show ring and the auctioneer begins the bidding process. Once the animal is sold, the seller and buyer pose for a picture and most of the buyers receive a gift basket from the seller. The animal is then taken back to the barn.

The buyer decides where he or she wants the meat processed and the sale committee sets up a date. The processing is usually completed in four weeks, according to Coles.

The 4-Hers usually receive their check by mid-September, said Coles, who applauded the work of the volunteer sale committee, which works year round.

As part of their project, each 4-Her who has sold an animal must write a thank-you letter to the buyer and turn it in to the sale committee by 5 p.m. on Saturday, the last day of the fair.

"If they don't write a thank-you note, they don't get a check," said Coles.

Many of the buyers at the livestock sale represent local businesses, and many of them purchase more than one animal.

"Mainly it is non-farming people who buy," said Coles. "A lot of them use it for advertising."

And many, he said, just want to help the 4-Hers.

"It's a good-will gesture for the buyers to help those kids in the community," said Coles.

The Giant Food store in River Hill, for example, has for years purchased one of the top steers. On Friday night, Giant paid $5 per pound for the Grand Champion Steer and Champion Crossbred, which weighed 1,332 pounds. That's $6,660. Giant will sell the meat at its store.

Coles said roughly 20 percent of the sales of hogs, sheep and lamb are given back to the sale committee, which processes the animal and sells the meat. The money is used to help fund a scholarship or charity of the buyer's choice.

The Winkler children live with their parents, Jeff and Rhonda, on the 365-acre Steel Fire Farm in Woodbine. The farm has dairy cattle, beef cattle, pigs, goats, lambs and horses.

Cecilia has eight horses, and competes in National Barrel Horse Association events from March to October. She earns money by training and selling horses, and she also rides other people's horses to sell.

When it comes to selling her livestock, she has matured with time.

"I know they get sold for a purpose," she said, surrounded by other 4-H friends. "It's worth it, because it's so much fun and you love it."

She added that the inevitability of what happens to the animals, most of whom have been named, is "a part of life. That's why I like horses and dairy cattle, because I know they don't die."

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