4-H and FFA livestock projects include life lessons

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
OKEECHOBEE — Before the County Fair and the Okeechobee Youth Livestock Show were canceled, at least one of the events did go on as planned. The Okeechobee Youth Small Animal Show was the only one event that was put on as planned. The animals were checked into the barn on March 13 and the chickens were judged the following day. The rabbits were judged on Monday, March 16. Pictured are (left to right) Alyssa Cortez (fourth), Caleb King (champion), Cameron Williams (reserve) and Richard Helfinstine (fifth). Not pictured, Jenna Larson (third).

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County 4-H and FFA members along with the Okeechobee Youth Livestock Show committee were counting their blessings as well as the proceeds from the 2020 youth livestock sale last week. Meanwhile, youth livestock show committees in other counties are reaching to Okeechobee County for advice.

On March 16, the Okeechobee County Fair — which was scheduled to start March 17 — was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In just a few days, the OYLS committee not only organized an online sale but also rallied local businesses and community members to help make the sale a success.

For young livestock club members, the result was an answer to their prayers. While some of the 4-H and FFA members have parents who finance their projects, many take out loans to cover most of the costs to buy and feed a steer or a pig, and then pay back the loan when the animal is sold at the auction.

Josh Clay, OYLS treasurer, said some get loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some get loans from local banks.

“The kid has a project,” explained Brad Lundy, OLYS president. “USDA has a lien on the project. After the sale, the first check the livestock committee writes from the proceeds has to pay off the lien. The youth gets what’s left after the loan is paid.”

Mr. Clay said the loans for the swine projects are usually $600 to $800. Loans on steer projects average $1,500 to $2,000.

If the animals did not sell for enough to cover the loans, those kids would have learned a very difficult, real-life lesson, said Mr. Lundy, a lesson farmers and ranchers have learned all too well. Raising animals involves risk. If it all goes wrong, that loan still has to be paid back. He said he knows that before the sale, one child had a very serious meeting with a loan officer from Farm Credit Bureau.

Some of the parents who funded their children’s projects were also counting on getting at least part of their money back. The recent economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the need to sell those project animals.

OYLS contracted with the Cattle in Motion website to broker the sale, which started at noon on Friday, March 20 and ended at noon Saturday, March 21.

The kids were “truly exposed to and tested by” real world concerns, said Mr. Lundy. “That level of being scared encouraged them to market that sale more than ever in history.” Other years, some kids just showed up at the sale on Saturday, expecting buyers to be there, he explained. This year, they worked hard to promote the sale and encourage buyers to participate.

Well aware of the precarious situation some of the young people were in, the Friends of the Okeechobee Youth Livestock Show donated money for the committee to use to help the kids. The donation amounts varied, said Mr. Lundy; all donations were welcome.

Bidding was slow when the sale opened. By Friday night, a number of projects had no bids, raising the stress levels for the kids and their parents. Many took to social media to ask for help.

On Saturday morning, all of the animals had bids and the bids kept coming.

Bids came from people in 17 different Florida counties, said OYLS Administrator Kimberly Wojcieszak. “We even had one buyer from Tennessee!”

During the course of the auction, 513 buyer profiles were created and a total of 29,280 bids were placed. All 232 animals were sold.

The Cattle in Motion website does not close an auction until five minutes after the last bid was made. If someone bids when there are less than five minutes remaining on the clock, the clock resets. Because so many people kept bidding, the sale went on hours after the established end time.

At 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 21, the Livestock Committee posted an welcome news for the young people who were worried the bids would not be high enough to cover their expenses: “A group of businesses has pooled a pot of money together to donate to our exhibitors on the low end of the sale. All steers under purchased under $3,500 will receive an add on that will bring their exhibit purchase to $3,500. All hogs, lambs, goats, and the rabbit purchased under $1,000 will receive an add on that will bring their purchase to $1,000.”

Ms. Wojcieszak said 375 exhibitors completed a project, but not all of those who raise a project animal sell it. The dairy and beef breeding animals can be shown more than one year. The rabbits are not usually sold, although this year the sale was opened up to rabbits. Mr. Lundy said they might have more kids wanting to sell rabbits next year, but there will not be a guarantee of the $1,000 minimum. This year he said, only one rabbit was sold and that animal belonged to a student whose hog did not make weight and was excluded from the sale. Under the state rules, the project swine must weigh at least 230 pounds and not more than 310 pounds on the weigh-in day to be included in the show and sale.

To participate in the show and sale students must also have a minimum 2.0 grade point average, just as they do to participate in school sports and other extracurricular competitions.

Okeechobee County’s livestock show was the first in Florida to be canceled due to the COVID-19 virus. About 20 other counties are facing the same problem and they are reaching out to the OYLS committee for advice on how to set up their own online auctions.

Mr. Lundy said the online auction experience could also inspire some changes in Okeechobee’s future shows. They might add an online component to the sale to cater to buyers who don’t want to sit through the lengthy auction in person. This year, two buyers were turkey hunting and one was duck hunting while bidding, said Ms.Wojcieszak.

The Friends of the Okeechobee Youth Livestock Show who donated the pool of money include:
• 441 Cattle Company;
• Ag 98 Trailer Sales;
• Emory Walker Company;
• Family Tree Enterprises;
• Flint and Stephanie Johns;
• Gilbert Family of Companies;
• Hoot Worley;
• J.M. Larson Inc.;
• Lehman Auto Body;
• Mickey Bandi Property Appraiser;
• Mike and Connie Casey;
• Nutrien Ag Solutions;
• Okeechobee Cattleman’s Association;
• Old River Cattle Company;
• Palmdale Oil;
• St. Lucie Battery and Tire;
• Sumner Engineering;
• Superior Cattle;
• W and W Veterinary Supply;
• Walpole Feed and Supply; and,
• Walpole Inc.

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