I am a dude. Not a dude in the surfer sense or as a Big Lebowski reference. Specifically, a city-dweller, especially one vacationing on a ranch in the western United States (credit: dictionary.com). This is why I was fortunate enough to make Wyoming my home lo these 25 years ago. The HF Bar Ranch in Saddlestring, Wyoming, hosted my dad in the ‘40s and then our family started the westward trek on an annual basis in 1976. That’s when it all started for me.
As a dude in Wyoming, not only do I not do the cowgirl thing very well (trail rides yes, barrel racing no) but I also struggle mightily with livestock raising and selling. Five years ago, we got on the 4-H train with pigs. I knew zip about swine other than from movies and books. Neither prepared me for how deeply I would fall in love with these funny, smart and surprisingly clean animals. Personality Plus doesn’t begin to describe pigs, although it does make for an excellent alliteration.
To say that I was unprepared for the devastation of becoming attached to these darlings and then sending them to the Happy Ranch in the Sky (allow me my euphemisms) is a gross understatement. The first year, I held a Celebration of Life party with pork-free products and pig cupcakes. The swine roamed free through the partygoers. Fortunately, I had a work commitment and was unable to attend that first sale and rest assured, everyone was relieved I wasn’t present. I would have been balled up in the corner of their pen, hugging them and wailing.
The subsequent years of this pattern of attachment and hysterical departure has eased a bit but is definitely not comfortable for me. I refuse to discuss their imminent demise in front of them and I absolutely will not eat anything I’ve met. No.
Regardless of my trauma, I have learned right alongside my kids about the care of livestock and the responsibilities therein. Will and Nick, like every other 4-H kid I know, clean the pens, feed twice a day, keep them watered, walk them, bathe them, etc. These animals are their responsibility and hopefully the source of college funds come sale time.
Which brings me to the real purpose of today’s column — why you should attend the Sheridan County 4-H and FFA Livestock Sale. Again, here’s the dude talking. I had never been to a livestock sale. However, once I had a child whose whole investment of time and money hinged on the generosity of local buyers, I became very engrossed.
You may be thinking that you’re a person who’d really like to support these kids’ hard work but you aren’t a big business with deep pockets. Or you would never be able to consume an entire pig, lamb, goat or steer. Or it’s just way too far out of your price range for meat.
Let me disabuse you of all these notions. First, if you have neither the freezer space nor the two growing teenagers at your house to eat an entire animal, you can split one with someone else. Arrangements can be made.
Second, if you would just like the tax write-off and advertising of buying an animal, you can purchase one and then someone else will pay the buyback price (often about half of the average auction price) and take the meat. All the credit, none of the freezer space!
Finally, if you do want to buy an entire animal and receive all the accolades and adoration, here’s a stunner. Based on the average price of meat at our local supermarket, after it’s all said and done, the total cost of your locally sourced, kid-raised, Sheridan County beef will average approximately $300 less than if you’d bought all those cuts at the grocery store. No kidding.
If you have never seen the huge smile and pride on the face of a kid who has raised and shown their animal, you are missing out. Parading them through the sale ring (I’ve seen pigs adorned with glitter and leis!) and receiving a great price for their animal is their reward for months of hard work and a job well done.
I encourage you to come up to the fairgrounds for the complimentary Buyer’s Dinner from 4-6 p.m. this Monday and grab your buyer number for the sale which starts at 6 p.m. Wander around the pens and see all the happy, well-cared-for livestock.
Watch the frenzy of kids readying their animals for their big entrance. And raise your number when you see one that strikes your fancy and fits in your budget. I have no doubt there will be many to choose from.
Just don’t look around for me at the end of the sale.
I’ll be huddled in the pigs’ pen, clutching and crying.
Amy Albrecht is the executive director of the Center for a Vital Community.