Going to market 4-H auction at fair remains a tradition
County fairs have undergone some subtle changes over the years. The rides are faster and have more glitz. Hawkers have toned down their aggressiveness. Food stands have a lot more variety than they did 50 years ago.
But one thing that remains a constant, at least at the Carbon County Fair, is the 4-H livestock auction.
Auctioneer Tim Houser said his family has been conducting these auctions at the Carbon County Fair for over 75 years. Before the fair was held in Palmerton, it was held for well over 100 years in Lehighton.
Houser has been at these auctions either with his father or as the auctioneer himself for over 50 years.
If anything, the auctions have become even more popular than they used to be, especially among the bidders, Houser said.
At this year’s fair, dozens of potential bidders attended and there was robust competition tor the cows, sheep, lambs, rabbits and other animals that the 4-H members spent the past year raising as projects.
Houser said years ago, there would be as few as 10 buyers present for these fair auctions. He said he’s glad the support for the 4-H event has grown.
“To me, this is what the fair is supposed to be about,” he said prior to the start of the recent Carbon fair auction. He said he’s pleased that young people continue to take an interest in farming and farm animals, noting that the number of farms nationwide is decreasing.
“Farming is a tough business,” he said. “It’s either get big or get out. This (the 4-H projects) teaches the kids responsibility. It teaches the kids work ethics.”
Besides donating his time to the Carbon County Fair, Houser also conducts the 4-H auction in two other counties. He said he enjoys this activity more than when he has to conduct an auction of a family farm.
“Every time a farm goes out of business, it doesn’t sprout vegetables any more. It sprouts homes,” Houser said, noting usually farmland is acquired by investors for housing developments.
The participation by youngsters at the auction indicates that the livestock portion of the 4-H program remains alive and well.
This year, the Carbon County 4-H Youth Livestock Club had 19 members ranging from age 8 (Grace Eroh) to age 18, the maximum allowable age as a competing member.
This year five members of the club showed at the auction for their final time: Jesse Fogel, Haley Fritz, Alyssa Myers, Kyle Nothstein and Tia Tyson. Three of them produced grand champions and one had a reserve champion.
Fritz, who has been in 4-H for eight years, was also the recipient of the Floyd and Jane Smith Memorial Scholarship, presented by Richard and Barbara Getz.
The 4-H members who had the grand champions and reserve champions got more than ribbons. Their animals, as a rule, fetched the highest monetary bids. The money received from selling the animals is used by the youngsters to recoup the funds spent in the months leading up to the fair caring for the animals and often to purchase more livestock for next year’s fair auction.
Winners in the livestock judging also qualify for participation in the Pennsylvania State Farm Show in Harrisburg.
Besides the awards for their livestock, 4-H members also have their pens judged by the fair judges. Those with the cleanest pens are given “good housekeeping” awards.
The 4-H members participating in the auction admit that the event is always bittersweet for them. Because the animals are club projects and receive special care, the members sometimes get close to them. The youngsters realize, though, that they are raising them for the sale.
“I have mixed feelings,” said Morgan Myers, 13, of Lehighton, who hugged her dairy cow and whispered to the animal just prior to walking it to the auction ring. She said she had the cow for about seven months.
“It’s a little sentimental for her,” said Morgan’s mother, Carissa. “You get attached to them (the projects) pretty quick.”
Still, Morgan said, in January she will purchase another animal to begin working toward next year’s fair.
Amanda Gowin, 13, has been showing rabbits for six years. This year she also showed three chickens and a sheep.
“I got the sheep in March,” she said, and named it “Padfoot.” She said, “It’s a little sad” selling it. “I was attached to it.”
She said taking care of it meant getting up early every morning to water, feed and walk the sheep.
Despite the heartbreak of letting the sheep go, she shrugged and said, “Most likely I’ll have another one next year.”
There are four members of the Gowin family involved in 4-H. Three of the sisters had either grand champions or reserve champions.
The oldest sister, Lydia, is in her seventh year in the organization. Lydia shows rabbits and said, “It’s a little bit sad” at the sale. On a positive note, she said a lot of times the seller executes a buyback provision in which they are returned to the seller for the fair market price. “So I sometimes end up with them anyway,” she said.
Diane Miller-Graver, a 4-H leader, said she was thrilled that the 4-H auction could go on this year. Last year, there was no auction because the fair was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
She said she was glad to see the turnout of both 4-H projects and bidders this year. “I’m very happy with the bidding,” she said.
This was the first fair Diane attended without her father, the late Robert “Bobby” Miller. Her father never missed an auction in over 75 years. He died on Aug. 5, 2020, at the age of 83. His death occurred in what would have been fair week in Carbon County.
Robert Miller was involved in 4-H all his life, as a member, leader and even an organizer of various 4-H Clubs. He showed livestock at the local and state level and got his children involved in 4-H.
In his memory, Diane brought one of her father’s belts to the fair and attached it to the corral fence at the auction. There was a moment of silence held in his honor.