Friday, August 07, 2009

4-H Livestock Auction

Two 4-H kids and their lambs, waiting for their turn to show.

The Northwest Michigan Fair opens on Sunday, with the culmination of the 4-H Livestock projects, the 4-H Livestock Auction, taking place on Thursday, August 13th. The 4-H Livestock Auction is an opportunity to purchase high quality, local, home grown animals for meat, for breeding stock, or to add to your laying flock. It is also the place to buy less mainstream meat like goat, rabbit or duck. For those who want to truly know what they are eating, the fair is an opportunity to interview the person who raised the animal, peruse feed records, compare animals, and to see who was deemed the best by expert livestock judges.

Darrel Robinson of the 4-H Livestock Council was kind enough to give me some advice about the action for first timers. 4-H kids will be showing their animals all week (see schedule here) through Wednesday, and will rated for both the quality of their animals and for showmanship (their knowledge of and handling of their animal). Wednesday evening , the eve of the auction, is a good time to walk the barns and talk with the kids about their animals. Registration for the auction is at 8 am on Thursday morning; the auction starts at 9 am. The auction proceeds one specie at a time, beginning with swine. The lineup looks something like this:
Meat Chickens
Production Chickens (layers)
Dairy Feeders
Jr. Beef
There is a free appreciation luncheon for all registered buyers at noon on auction day. Registered buyers also get free fair admission on auction day. Buyers are also publicly thanked in fair and newspaper advertising. If you are interested in bidding on an animal but can't be there for the auction, you may complete a "proxy card" which authorizes 4-H Livestock Council to bid on your behalf. Call 228-6562 to get a buyer's pass or a proxy card.

After the auction, you may choose from five different local processors, who will slaughter, butcher, vacuum pack, and freeze your meat to your specifications. The processors will have their services and prices posted at the auction. Smoking and other specialty processing is available. 4-H will transport your animal to the processor at the close of the fair. (If you wish to take your animals home instead of to a processor, this is allowed.)

Families who have purchased or shared in the purchase of a cow or pig tell me that having a whole animal in the freezer challenges them to find recipes for more than the usual cuts of meat. I've found these recipes in older cookbooks and ethnic cookbooks. Authentic ethnic cooking often requires goat, rabbit or duck, smaller animals perfect for adventuresome cooks with less freezer space.

Buying at the 4-H Livestock Auction is more than just an alternative way to buy food. Last week at the Traverse City Film Fest, I saw Food, Inc. and was inspired to hand out Livestock Auction brochures at the discussion afterward. During the film, the audience murmured and groaned during scenes of animal distress. I was more moved by descriptions of farmers' distress. The cheap meat that we see in the grocery store is made possible by a system that forces farmers to accept higher and higher levels of debt and diminishing levels of actual income. I'm not worried about the future of the factory far. -- the system is unsustainable and will crumble under its own weight -- but I'm worried that as we build more sustainable systems we will face a dearth of young people who know how to actually work with animals. Supporting 4-H through the Livestock Auction is a way to support the next generation of food producers.

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