Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Where does your food come from?

Yesterday I took the day off from work and traveled to Fredericksburg to attend a 4-H Livestock Auction. My friend, Emily, her husband and their flock of children are all very involved in two things: raising pastured beef cattle and 4-H. They invited some special guests to come to the show and auction and a buyer's barbeque to support their kids' efforts and with the hope of at least breaking even on the effort of raising these creatures to market size.

It was my first time attending a livestock auction. It probably won't be my last.

I confess I missed the early morning Showmanship for the pigs and the cattle because I took advantage of having the whole day off and the trip to Fredericksburg and ran a couple of errands first. But I did get to watch the Showmanship presentations for the lambs and goats. I was able to walk around in the lower level of the auction house and meet all the animals and talked to a good number of young people about the animals they had raised. I went upstairs in the auction house and got registered and was given my bidders ticket (a card with your number on it).

After the kids had shown off their ring skills and the judge had determined which animals were closest to the the ideal for market and the ribbons were awarded; the entire even was dismantled. The show ring was taken apart, all the tents were folded up, the deep layer of mulch was pushed into a giant pile by a little tractor and suddenly, the parking lot got twice as big and everyone's thoughts turned to the business aspect of this event.

But first we got to eat. Everyone present headed off to the Buyer's Barbeque where we were joined by even more people. This event was catered and featured two different kinds of barbeque (pork and beef) and slaw and macaroni salad, beverages and some condiments. It was all freshly prepared. I skipped the macaroni and the buns, but sampled both BBQs and the slaw.

Then, we all went back to the auction house. I could not help but think of the Roman Gladiators as I settled myself high up in the stands that surrounded the pit. The pit is about 15 feet across, may less. It is backed by the auctioneers platform and there is an entry gate on their left and and exit on their right. the space runs across the front of them in a semi-circle. Down in this pit were three men who were assistants to the auctioneer and who helped identify bidders and then who worked those bidders to bring the prices higher.

The animals were brought into the ring by the young person who raised them. They were introduced and the bidding began. Being a 4-H event, many of the participants recruited bidders and local businesses from the various counties represented attended the event including banks, utility companies, farm insurance companies and others. They came with a set amount of money that they could donate to the cause of supporting these young people and their programs, and it was a generous amount for bids on many of the animals soared into the thousands of dollars very quickly. There was on very cute young lady with a very homely goat weighing in at about 100 pounds who fetched in about $1100. It was both impressive and frightening because I wanted badly to bring home affordable, but high quality meat for my family.

Fortunately, the bidders brought in by the Simpson family, who I was there to support, arranged for everyone there to bid on very specific animals. In the end, despite other animals bringing in upwards of $5 or $7 a pound, I bid and won at just $1.50 a pound. There was tax added on but in the end, I had a lovely pastured steer weighing in at 1185 on the hoof for a total price of $1821.94.

The Simpsons provided transport from the auction to the butcher in Faulkier County the next morning. Emily Simpson worked with me over the phone the week before to set up the cut sheet for the butcher and I will be calling tomorrow to find out what the final hang weight is going to be. The butcher charges a kill fee around $50 and then charges a processing fee somewhere around 45 cents a pound. Emily advises that the hang weight is normally around 50 to 60 percent of the live weight. So, I'm hoping for about 600 pounds of meat in the end.

This will be split with my sister and then, out of my half, my parents want some and my friend in D.C. also wants to purchase some. If we get a decent amount out of it, we will give it another go next year.

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