Thirty-four pigs, 32 steers, 24 lambs, four goats and two turkeys later, Teton County 4-H’ers left the county fair auction Friday night $620,000 richer.
While the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the look of the Teton County Fair this year the 4-H livestock auction survived, with auctioneers spitting numbers at rapid speed, friends outbidding one another and kids from throughout the county proudly showing off their animals.
For 10-year-old Evelyn Courser, 4-H has taught her responsibility, courage and resilience. During the first month of raising her lamb, it died unexpectedly. She quickly had to buy a new one and start her project over. The new lamb, dubbed Calamity Jane, was sweet, Courser said, but shy around others because of her late addition to the family.
Despite the drawback, on Saturday morning two first-place blue ribbons hung above Calamity Jane’s pen — one for showmanship and one for breeding.
Next to Calamity Jane stood R2D2, 17-year-old Julia Mahood’s lamb. Saying goodbye to her animals is the hardest part of 4-H, she said. Mahood spent months waking up early to feed, exercise and bathe R2D2. And then it was time say farewell.
Despite that, however, Mahood said that during their six months together she gave R2D2 the best life possible. And the money she makes from the auction will go to her parents to pay off what she borrowed to raise the lamb, with the profit going toward college.
Mahood’s mother, Ginny Mahood, believes 4-H is a wonderful opportunity for her girls.
“A lot of kids focus on themselves,” she said, “and it’s nice to see them put that outward.”
It’s not only parents who see the value of 4-H. Many in the community support the program and the participants’ future.
Zia Yasrobi, owner of Y2 Consultants, sat with Peter Lawton, CEO of the Bank of Jackson Hole. Yasrobi bought the first steer of the night.
“It doesn’t matter what it is or how much it costs,” Yasrobi said. “If they’re going to put the work in, I’m going to support it.”
Glenn Owings, a Teton County 4-H educator, said about one-third of the meat of the livestock auctioned is donated back to the community and its nonprofits. Yasrobi and Lawton, for example, both donated their purchases that night to area organizations.
Unlike most large gatherings in Jackson, Gov. Mark Gordon exempted livestock auctions from statewide health order No. 2. That order prohibits “gatherings of more than 50 people ... in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of the public.”
In the order, “gatherings” are defined as planned or unplanned private or public events that bring people together in a confined indoor or outdoor space.
Owings said safety was still very much a concern and a priority in planning this year’s livestock auction.
“That to us was an opening to do something if we could,” Owings said, “but we also didn’t want to take that as any way to be irresponsible or not be able to provide distancing measures.”
While the 4-H livestock auction usually takes place in the Heritage Barn, this year it was hosted in the Rodeo Arena to allow for more space and open air.
“We wanted to make sure that we provided enough space and seating and sanitizers and masks and things like that,” Owings said, “so people were willing to do those things.”
By the end of Friday night, all animals were auctioned. While some 4-H’ers felt a little sad about the future of their four-legged friends, Courser shared her mature look on mortality.
“All animals die,” she said. “All humans die. It’s all a part of life.”