Sage Faulkner: Celebrate 4H Livestock Projects

Raising livestock for the local county fair is a great part of Northern New Mexico life. Photo by Sage Faulkner


The Rio Arriba County Fair is this July 27-30, and the livestock auction will be July 30 at 5:00 pm.  I hope to see you there!  

“No one wants to work!”

It’s a complaint I hear, a lot, from other business owners, near and far.  I structure our business growth plans on labor our family can provide. Hard workers are hard to find.  Very few people actually want to work, though I’ve met a good number who sure want a paycheck.

It is just so true.  No one wants to work.  

Wait a minute.  Wait, right there.  

I just witnessed about 50 kids from Rio Arriba and Los Alamos Counties work their butts off.  Like seriously hard.  Working.  My kids were in the mix, and I watched them and others kids just like them, working really hard.  Sweat dripping from their brows, early mornings and late nights.  What is this hard work?  4H livestock projects.

A little explanation for those that aren’t familiar.

A kid purchases a prospect livestock animal.  It may be one from their family herds.  It may be one from a close friend or neighbor.  Most likely, it is from a show animal sale, and prices reflect trends in outstanding show animals well above a market value.  For cattle, this usually happens about 10 months before the fair.  For pigs, goats and sheep, this is roughly 5 months before.

I’ll use my daughters goat project for an example.  She bought 2 goats at a sale for a total of $700.  This was well above the going market rate.

She felt the added cost was worth the opportunities the quality of animal would provide.  We knew the cost was well above what she could get if she had to sell it at the sale barn, but it was a calculated risk.

Now, they start this magical work concept.

Show animals need to learn how to walk and stand.  They eat the best feed, vitamins and minerals possible.  They are groomed regularly.  

This isn’t something they buy and then show up with.  This is where they work.  Early mornings, exercising and grooming, feeding and cleaning.  Planning ahead, evaluating progress in the animals gain, health and condition.  Evenings are more of the same.  Family vacations go the the wayside because the work and responsibility can’t be set aside.  Sleepovers at friends’ houses come at the high cost of family negotiations.  Brother will help, but doing his chores and laundry are part of the deal.  Deals happen, but the weight of the responsibility is heavy on everyone’s mind.  Feed sacks empty quickly as animals grow.  The high quality feed is the best money can buy, and the savings account shows their withdrawals as they continue to invest in their project.

This trend continues every single day.  For months.

If the work doesn’t happen, the chances at making a sale slot drop.

The kids know this, so they work harder.  They play music for their animals, mimicking fair days so the animals won’t get stressed.  They load and unload from trailers and walk around obstacles.

The livestock are getting bigger, and they eat more.  Healthy appetites are maintained with ample exercise, and the investment in the child’s time is evident.  The feed bill is mounting, a big portion of the investment in a market animal.

Then the fair gets here.  Kids clip and wash, hand-feed, wash again and groom some more.

They walk in the ring, moms and dads holding other animals to be shown.  They wipe drops of sweat from their faces when the judge isn’t looking.  They ease an animal that outweighs them around a ring.  They stand them proudly, hoping they will brace, standing just so the judge sees them at their best.  They remember to help the kid in front of them, whose animal doesn’t want to move forward.  They smile at a judge, hours and hours of practice boiling down to this one short window in the ring, where the color of the ribbon may or may not be what the child hoped for.

Then, it is over.

If they make sale, they hope to make enough to cover this year’s costs and invest again.

If they don’t make sale, they work at negotiating sale out of the ring.   They hope that add-ons will come from some of their invitations to fair.  They make plans to do it again.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Because, I know buying an animal at the County Fair may seem unnecessary.

You may not really want to deal with a whole steer or lamb.  It might seem like a big investment.  Maybe someone else will do it.

But, wait.  We need workers.  We need people who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and work hard.  And we can help by buying livestock at a fair.  And now, we know that these kids have invested a lot just to get here.

It really is that simple.  You, and I will be old one day.  We need hard working individuals to carry this country forward.  We need compassionate business people who can make calculated risks and understand there is more than just a bottom line when making business decisions.

If you support the youth in your county by buying livestock, my hat is off to you.  You are doing something extraordinary for our future!

If you haven’t bought at a fair, I implore you to consider it.  You can fill your freezer with high quality meat.  You can donate the meat to a food bank – doubling your investment into your community.  You can simply donate the animal back to a child, or sell it at a livestock auction.   We can make it easy for you.  You can give add-ons (a donation to livestock youth without the purchase of an animal).

Help celebrate the hard working future of our communities.  Help reward hard workers.

Celebrate perseverance and join us at the Rio Arriba County Fair.