A livestock tradition | PostIndependent.com

A livestock tradition

RIFLE ” Hope O’Neill’s 1969 Camaro is in need of a new paint job.

The silver and black classic Chevy with hideaway headlights will soon be cherry red thanks to Indigo.

Indigo is her 1,218-pound steer that was crowned Grand Champion at this year’s Garfield County Fair.

Hope is outweighed by more than 1,100 pounds and it may be a struggle, but she pulls Indigo through the arena with expertise. This is Hope’s fifth Grand Champion steer.

“She’s small but she ain’t scared of anything,” Hope’s father Kerry says proudly.

At 20, this was Hope’s 4-H finale after 12 years.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” she says, preparing Indigo to enter the arena for the livestock sale. The massive steer will be a prized bidding item.

The livestock auction is a county fair tradition that still has a place in a region where farm and ranchland are vanishing.

All the youngsters know where their animals are headed.

“It depends a lot of their personality,” Hope says about parting with her animal. “I’m kinda feeling guilty.”

The petite blonde with a squeaky voice that matches her small frame smiles as she talks about Indigo. She’s been taking care of the steer since October.

He’s a good steer and she will miss him.

As the first animal in the area, Indigo fetches $9.50 a pound. That’s a cool $11,571 paid out by Alpine Bank.

That will be plenty of cash for Hope to get her coveted Camaro painted and lots left over for school and savings.

Today at around 7:30 a.m. Indigo will be leaving home for good. After a short stay at the feedlot, it’s off to the meat locker plant for processing, then to the freezer and finally the dinner table.

Such is the cycle of livestock.

“I’m going to be kind of sad,” says 10-year-old Toni Gross from Carbondale. Her face splattered with freckles and her red hair in pigtails, Toni will be selling a steer and a pig named Captain.

“Pigs are kind of easy (to take care of),” she says grinning, “but steers are hard.”

Her steer is named Norman ” remember the movie “City Slickers?”

Toni says Norman is kind of ornery. “He likes to run off sometimes.”

But she’s going to miss him.

Hope’s cousin Lydia Chiles of Rifle finally saw her hard work pay off. After five years in 4-H, Lydia snared a Reserve Grand Champion ribbon for her steer General Lee.

“I guess I’m going out with kind of a bang,” she says proudly.

“I will be hard,” she says about sending her steer off after the auction. “He’s really sweet and cuddly, so it’s going to be hard.”

These young women know that the steers aren’t pets. They had a job to do and did it. Lydia says there won’t be tears but there will be some tugs on the heartstrings. Encana paid more than $7,500 for General Lee

With the indoor arena filled with a few hundred people, it was obvious that the rural tradition of the livestock auction is now sprinkled with modern times.

There were as many Levis as Wranglers, and enough preppie shorts to leave the old-timers shaking their heads. Stetsons and ball caps dotted the arena, and a couple of bandanas were used to cover a head and not the neck. There were nearly as many Nike’s and New Balance sneakers as there were Justin Boots.

It was a true hodgepodge of people. As the twentysomething man strolled by in a Megadeth rock-n-roll T-shirt, a thirtysomething woman passed by in her tight Wranglers and strawberry-colored boots and a western long-sleeved shirt.

The gamut. It is the modern livestock auction.

The auction itself brings in tens of thousands of dollars to the youngsters selling their animals. Some will be saving for college, others will buy cars and paint jobs for cars. After nearly a year’s worth of work, they finally get paid.

Large companies like Alpine Bank, EnCana and others come to write big checks. The money spent is good for public relations but the 4-H kids are the benefactors.

“We usually spend between $7,000 and $8,000,” Jay Rickstrew of Rifle’s Alpine Bank says. With the purchase of Indigo Alpine Bank is obviously spending more this year.

The winning bid for the Grand Champion steer is always the most prestigious honor of the auction.

“We haven’t got that for a while,” Rickstrew says with a smile.

A pair of pigs was also in Rickstrew’s bidding cross hairs, which the bank planned to donate to the Silt Ambulance and the Rifle Rotary for fundraising pig roasts.

“It’s all for the kids,” he says about the auction. “It’s great to be able to give back like this.”

Where else would you see someone write a check for $525 for three rabbits except the county fair?

Not all the bidders were large companies writing checks for kids. There were some people who came just to take home a pig for a roast or fill a freezer with hamburger and steak.

The auction is the culmination of the fair for the 4-H kids. For all the participants it’s the end of a journey that basically started after they cleaned out the stalls at last year’s fair.

Raquel Murr, a smiling 8-year-old from Silt was excited about her showing at the fair. Her smile remained even though her goat Enis kept nipping at her arm as she talked about her animals. And why not, she had lots of ribbons.

“I was happy,” she says about winning Grand Champion for her pig Lu Lu. Raquel also was honored with a Grand Champion ribbon for Enis ” named for a character in “The Dukes of Hazzard” movie.

Raquel’s turkey was Reserve Grand Champion, but she didn’t give him a name.

Enis is her favorite she confesses. “He’s fun to play with. I’m going to be sad when he’s gone,” she says.

For Travis Gross, 19, of Silt, it’s the end of the 4-H line. It’s now off to college next week. His 263-pound pig earned him more than $1,900, which will help pay for a few expenses at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

“It’s not enough but it will help a lot,” Travis says with a grin.

After 11 years in 4-H, Travis can’t hide his passion for 4-H. He will soon be learning engineering ” mechanical or petroleum, he hasn’t decided yet.

“It’s been great, 4-H really teaches a lot of lessons and responsibility. There really is something for everybody, not just livestock. I think everybody should do 4-H,” he says.

For his final appearance in 4-H, Travis’ lamb was named Reserve Grand Champion, and Travis won the overall Senior Showmanship title.

Many of the participants are from ranching families. The auction tradition continues even though there are less ranching families than there once were. That number will probably continue to drop.

There’s no doubt that times have changed.

As for this year’s 4-H crop of youngsters, they raised their animals for nearly a year. Fed them, bathed them, exercised them and prepared them for the fair.

Some won ribbons, others didn’t. Some became friends with their animals, and gave them names like Little Orphan Annie, Norman, Bo Duke and Indigo.

The livestock auction was a sad time for some and a time to say goodbye. It was also payday.

For Hope, 4-H has been a big part of her life. The commitment and dedication claimed a large part of her free time. She thinks for a moment about what she had to sacrifice for her long hours in the 4-H world.

“Nothing,” she finally answers. “I don’t think so, this has been a lot of fun and I can’t really think of anything that I’ve missed along the way.”

And now, it’s time to close the door on 4-H, say goodbye to Indigo and throw a cherry paint job on one of the coolest cars in town.

For the rest of the 4-Hers, the quest for next year will start very soon.

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