MITCHELL, Neb. – Not even a global pandemic could quash the excitement and sense of community embodied by the annual Scottsbluff County Fair Junior Livestock Sale.
As in other years, the parade of young livestock producers through the ring at the fairgrounds in Mitchell was steady on Saturday, to the accompaniment of “Yup’s” and “Yo’s” as callers recognized bids, underpinned by the steady patter of the auctioneer. Hogs squealed, cattle lowed and sheep and goats bleated as they made their way past family, friends and, most importantly, buyers from around the region.
“I felt incredibly proud of our community,” said Kate Schmer, who chairs the sale committee with her husband, Dustin. “The small-town businesses, the backbone of this community, were there. They showed up for these kids in a way we didn’t think they could do.”
New this year, some of those buyers participated in the sale from the virtual world, via a live online auction feed in response to COVID-19. And, when all was said and done, 176 animals brought in more than $310,000 to 4-H and FFA members who had a critter in the sale.
“For the first time, we felt (the online auction) went really well,” Schmer said. “The first time you try anything, you always have to reevaluate and make sure the cost is worth it.”
A pair of local businesses – Jenne Powerline Angus and Big Red Nebraska Popcorn – chipped in to help cover the expense of taking the auction online, she said. Overall, the online sale went well, providing additional benefits along with getting the animals in front of buyer's eyes, Schmer said, particularly for family members who are in the high-risk group for exposure to the novel coronavirus.
“I think it also helped families in terms of grandma and grandpa able to watch their grandkids sell without having to be there,” she said. “It was a service the committee can provide to the families. It’s nice for the families to be able to share that.
“We absolutely got bids on it, we absolutely had animals bought on it,” Schmer said. “We had people watching and bidding on it – it definitely served its purpose that way.”
Buyer turnout also was “pretty good,” Schmer said, with businesses and individuals from across the Wyo-Braska region turning out to support the young people.
“I won’t say every business that’s usually there was there, but it was strong," she said “I don’t think the stands were as full as they have been in the past, but that could also be families who decided to stay home from the sale.”
Overall, the 2020 Junior Livestock Sale brought in about $8,000 less than last year, Schmer said. But there were also 18 fewer animals sold, so she figures it all balanced out.
“The average price per head was up across the board,” she said. “It was good to see.”
Money spent at the annual livestock sale – as at fair sales around the country – goes to the young people who raised the animals. A lot of it is squirreled away and saved for future college financing or other worthwhile pursuits.
But there is one aspect of funding at the livestock sale that isn’t advertised, isn’t really talked about, but it too makes a big difference for the sellers – the add-on payments buyers or just random individuals chip in to help the young people out.
“It’s something that’s done privately, behind the scenes,” Schmer said. “I could go in there and say, ‘I know these 10 kids – would you throw an extra $100 (on top of the sale price) for each of them.’
“The buyers recognize when the kids aren’t getting what they believe should be the floor (price) and they fix it,” she said. “It’s not something we ask them to do, but every year, they figure out they want to give a bit more.”
Schmer didn’t have the final numbers on the add-ons as of Tuesday, but said it easily amounted to “thousands and thousands of dollars.
“These kids maybe haven’t been through the financial wringer we adults have been through, but the kids have been through different struggles and they’ve also had to adjust,” she said. “I never heard anybody say ‘(the sale) might not go well (due to COVID-19). They were thinking it.
“But there was a level of security built in with the online auction this year,” Schmer said. “We could have pulled off the sale even if fair was shut down. We were going to find a way to sell animals for the kids.”