The emotional road of raising 4-H market animals
Photo by: 
Roberta Marquette
Trucks pulling empty trailers leave the Gunnison County Fairgrounds following the loading of project animals.
Trucks pulling empty trailers leave the Gunnison County Fairgrounds following the loading of project animals.

After all the ribbons have been given out and the dust begins to settle at the Gunnison County Fairgrounds, the hardest challenge for many 4-H participants looms.

After a little under one year of raising, feeding and caring for a market animal — some having a few — the youngsters say goodbye to their animal, dropping them off in a trailer to be taken to their buyer to fulfill their purpose.

This past Sunday, the 4-H livestock auction participants lingered outside the Fred Field Agricultural Center with their purchased animals and their families. Some individuals go through the motions just like any other 4-H event. For others, it's an emotional few hours, standing next to their livestock one more time. Misty eyes are not out of the normal as the kids disembark the trucks, leaving their animal behind.

“You always get attached to them whether you like it or not,” Taylor Grosse, in her seventh year of 4-H market classes, said. “It’s sad, but you know you’re getting the money and you’re going to get to feed someone else.”

Market animals such as cattle, goat, pigs and poultry are raised by their respective owners to meet the expectations of what makes an ideal product. Most participants the Times spoke to said that ultimately, it comes down to the weight, muscling and even breeding that contributes to a high dollar animal.

It becomes a science. Beef program participant Tristen Haus said that the most interesting aspect she’s learned in her 10 years of participating in the market classes is discovering how to create the most quality product. Putting weight on the animal, and in the right places, is the key to making the best tasting meat.

Member Aubrie Brown has a similar approach. Unlike some 4-H participants who purchase their market animal, Brown breeds her own goats to show. Feeding them “as much as they want” for the first few months is usually the way to go, followed by plenty of exercising to form meaty muscle.

Grosse, who showed swine this year, changes the amount of protein she feeds her piglet in the first few months to build up proper fat.

Although, breaking their care-taking chores into measured cups of food or spending a certain amount of hours on working with the animal doesn’t keep the kids from creating a relationship with them.

“I just love my animals, they’re my pets,” Brown said.

For Brown, the older she gets and the longer she stays in the program, the harder it’s been to say goodbye to her projects.

“Since I’m older I get to spend more time with them and bond with them and get more invested,” she said.

As Brown stands by her market goat, who she bred and raised for this purpose, she admits she’s going to “bawl my eyes out” once she puts it on the truck.

Haus recalled plenty of quiet car rides to the fairgrounds on that fateful Sunday morning, although she admits the full feeling of loss depends on the personality of the animal.

“Some years, you’ll hate your animal and you’re like, ‘good riddance,’” she joked. “But other years you’re over here crying because we don’t get to keep them … You just really have to draw a line. You have to know what their purpose is.”

Brekken Hildreth is in her second year of showing market animals for 4-H, and has spent just as many years in the organization. Her favorite element of the program is creating the friendship with her animal.

And while it’s hard to let her pig or goat go, coming from a ranching family, Hildreth is used to the circle of life.

“I don’t know, I already know all the cows we raise get butchered,” she said of the family business.

Hildreth’s aunt, Torrie Blackwell summed it up simply.

“It’s what we do,” she said. “We feed America.”

(Roberta Marquette can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at roberta@gunnisontimes.com.)