HARRINGTON — The smell of sawdust was in the air, and animal sounds and the auctioneer’s booming voice reverberated through the Kent Building Thursday evening at the Delaware State Fair.
One by one, pigs, goats, sheep and cows were taken before the crowd, and audience members placed steadily escalating bids on the animals. The event was the Junior Livestock Auction, where dozens of kids and young adults put their farm animals up for auction.
In total, 138 animals were auctioned, raising $200,702.50, less than $350 short of last year’s record. The average sale this year was for $1,454.36.
The auction is a fair tradition, where farm enthusiasts ages 5 to 21 who have raised an animal can have their hard work rewarded and receive some sweet cash. The animals are sold by the pound, with audience members potentially paying thousands of dollars to buy a pig, goat, lamb or cow.
Buyers ranged from state officials to Harrington Raceway to Delaware farms.
At 6 Thursday evening, half an hour before the event began, the bleachers around the small ring in the Kent Building already were crowded. Interested spectators and participants continued trickling in until the emcees announced the time had arrived.
State Rep. David Wilson, who owns an auction house, served as the overseer for the event, proclaiming dollar totals and urging spectators to bid.
“Four dollars, four and a quarter, you’re talkin’ a grand champion here!” he yelled in rapid-fire fashion in an attempt to drive up the bidding on a cow. Seemingly speaking hundreds of words per minute, he held court, his voice thundering throughout the venue.
Most of the participants were members of 4-H or FFA, two youth-centered agricultural organizations. The individuals who raise and sell the animals get to keep the money, although for many, that sum goes right back into the livestock.
Madison Cook, of Newark, had a busy evening, as two lambs and a pig owned by the 16-year-old were auctioned.
After the sale of the third animal, Madison, who is part of a farming family and has been showing livestock since she was 3, reflected on the animals to which she has grown close.
“It’s sad sometimes because you get attached to them.”
Thursday’s auction was a successful one for her, thanks in part to the quality of her livestock. She had the grand champion market lamb and the reserve champion pig. Her sister, Mindy, also had the grand champion for both goats and swine.
Madison said much of the money will go into raising livestock for next year.
Some of the animal owners reacted with emotion after their livestock was sold. One girl wiped her eyes as her cow was escorted from the ring.
The buyers, whose names were announced after every sale, had the option to keep or donate their new stock, with some choosing to give the animal right back to the original owner or to 4-H.
Republican state auditor Tom Wagner, who buys an animal every year, usually to donate back to 4-H, teamed up with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., to buy a goat for one of Sen. Coons’ staffers.
“Classic bipartisanship,” the auditor said.
State officials regularly participate in the event, buying livestock they often then give back to 4-H.
Will Powers, of Townsend, had a pig up for sale. Because he just turned 22, this was his final auction, meaning he will no longer be able to participate in an event he participated in for his whole life, he said.
Like all owners, he had worked to find a buyer ahead of time, something that irked him.
Citing county auctions in Maryland, he said there should be a committee tasked with finding buyers. Doing so would make it easier on the kids, who may not know any potential buyers. It also could drive up prices, Mr. Powers said while standing in between rows of pig stalls.
From nearby, 18-year-old Magnolia resident Justin Butler chimed in his agreement. Whereas Mr. Powers grew up on a farm and is aware of a number of possible people or companies to approach for the auction, Mr. Butler is not as fortunate.
“You’re just hoping you find the person,” Mr. Powers said.
The owners generally know whom the buyer will be ahead of time but have to wait and find out the price, he noted.
“If you’re at the end, a lot of that money’s gone,” he said. “Some people are betting on that to pay part of their college.”
The two don’t mind the actual business of losing an animal they have raised. Mr. Butler said he does not get attached and does not name his livestock, and while Mr. Powers did name his pig, he was just hoping for a good price.
“It’s a bonus for those students that have done well raising livestock,” said Donald Bullock, the chairman of the livestock auction committee.