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Josh Kearns, of Sunburst, proudly shows off his steer, Blue, for the virtual livestock auction that replaced this year’s annual 4-H Livestock auction last week. While the numbers were a bit lower than in years past, the price per pound for steers hovered around $3.39 a pound. Coalter Littrell shares his thoughts on how COVID-19 impacted his last year of 4-H. See page 15.

Planning a livestock auction in just two weeks time is a phenomenal undertaking, but one the MSU Extension Agent team and multiple volunteers took on without hesitation once the decision was made. The agents started discussing the idea of a virtual auction back in March, when schools closed, but as spring continued COVID-19 seemed to be slowing down.

Originally it had been decided that the annual 4-H Livestock Auction would take place this year, with modifications, but after COVID-19 climbed dramatically upwards in numbers after the Fourth of July, plans changed.

“We had been talking about our options for fair since schools closed in March. We have always been considering what the world would look line in July and how we could be as normal as possible,” said Toole County MSU Extension Agent Kim Woodring. “It was a very abrupt decision due to the increase of cases after the Fourth of July. As a team, the extension agents and admins, decided that it would be best for the entire golden triangle area to not get together for live shows, camping and a live auction this summer.It was a tough decision and we have learned a lot since we made that decision.”

With a large number of kids, approximately 140 animals to be auctioned off and multiple buyers needing to be notified, along with actually having the virtual auction, this was a huge learning curve for all involved, one that wouldn’t have been possible to overcome without all the great volunteers and 4-H members working so hard together. While the numbers were down a bit from last year, mainly due to so many 4-H members graduating high school last year and some deciding not to do pigs this year because of COVID-19, it was still a daunting task. 

“We made appointments with each member to video and weigh in their animal,” explained Woodring. “Each member was videoed showing their animal for a few minutes and then we got up close-up video of each animal from every angle. The judges watched the videos and determined the showmanship ribbons and the market placings. We were also able to hear from two of our judges over Zoom and Facebook Live about how they made their placing decisions.”

The agents used articles and updates in the newspapers and radio as well as the Marias Fair and individual extension office Facebook pages to promote the auction.

“Volunteers worked together to create a buyers catalog that we handed out to businesses,” said Woodring. “The fair would not be possible without our volunteers in a normal year, but especially during a pandemic. Our committee members were a huge help too. They offered to help wherever needed.”

And help was definitely needed. Trying to organize and get everything done in such a short amount of time and adapting to new technology were some big challenges, ones that were overcome with teamwork and dedication. 

“It was a lot all at once,” admitted Woodring. “We had to record the kids showing their animal and the body of the animal, then we uploaded it to our fair website. We had to coordinate with the auction company and they uploaded pictures of each of the kids and their animals. We really created more work for ourselves with this virtual fair! We held the small animal shows online on Zoom. The judges went through the motions of a normal show and how they would normally judge the animals. They asked the 4-H members questions so hopefully the members were paying attention for next year!”

Next year. Everyone is hoping that next year things will have returned to what can be considered “normal,” but if a situation arises again where things have to go virtual it will be a lot smoother after this year’s crash course.

“I think that everyone played an important role in putting this fair together in such a short time. The agent team works together to play to our strengths to get the job done,” praised Woodring. “If we could do anything differently, it would be to have more time to form our plan.It was really important to us to continue to do something for our kids. We didn’t want to give up and let COVID-19 take the fair away from us entirely. But, we are really missing the fair ambiance and hope that we never have to have an online fair ever again!”

A lot was learned in a very short time and some of what took place are things Woodring would like to see continue in the future, virtual fair or not.

“There were a lot of really great things to come out of this unexpected change,” said Woodring. “Many volunteers stepped up to help where they could, offering to cook meals or bring dinner out to us while we were working. There were some things that I would like to see us do in the future, like the sale catalog and all of this advertising on Facebook. It was a blast to make the videos with the kids and their animals.”

With school being out since March, the kids had that much more time to spend with their animals, making the decision to not have an auction or fair at all an even more disappointing decision. Thanks to area extension agents, committee members and volunteers, the 4-H portion of the fair was able to take place. 

Buyers simply registered on the website, clicked on the 4-Hers and were able to see photographs of them and their animal. There was also a link to see who all was bidding on that animal. The winning bidders received an invoice from the auction company’s website once the bidding closed. The auction started on Tuesday evening, July 14 and was suppose to close by 7 p.m. on Friday, June, 17, but the sale kept going until 8 p.m. because there were so many bidders at the end. 

“Every time someone bid the other bidders got five more minutes to bid,” said Woodring. “The families enjoyed watching the bids come in on their computers and phones. Thank you to all who supported our 4-H youth via the livestock auction.”

Overall, the auction was a success and those involved thank everyone for the incredible support throughout this past year. Jerry Collins was instrumental in the success, giving his time and helping coordinate the online auction. There were a total of 169 registered bidders from 31 different cities.

There were 48 swine, averaging $5.71 a pound; 20 lambs averaging $4.06 a pound; 47 steers at $3.39 a pound and one lone goat at $5.60 a pound. The averages were down from last year, but considering the economic turndown due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was still a great sale with bidders showing great support.

A lot of dedication, late nights and ingenuity went into making it happen but according to Woodring, it was all worth it.

“We have to remember that there is no perfect way to plan an event during a pandemic,” concluded Woodring. “We were just happy that we were able to put on something for these kids.”

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