The two brothers wake up early most mornings to feed their horses, steers, lambs, and pig by 7 a.m. Once their animals are fed, Zeke and Eli typically wash the steers, work the lambs to build muscle and train the pig to be walked with a stick. The boys repeat a similar schedule 10 hours later, making sure their animals are taken care of and fed by 7 p.m.
The Hietala brothers aren’t alone in their rigorous summer schedule. About 40 other kids in the county are taught by the 4-H livestock program to train and take special care of their animals in preparation for the Junior Livestock Sale, which takes place this Saturday, Aug. 30, at 3:30 p.m. at the Ouray County Fairgrounds in Ridgway.
The Junior Livestock Sale is a time for the 4-H kids to realize the rewards for the hard work and long hours required of their livestock projects. “These kids put a lot of time, energy and money into their animals,” said CSU Extension Agent Trent Hollister.
According to Hollister there will be approximately 40 4-H animals at this year’s sale. Each contestant will present their animals during designated show times at the fair. The animals are judged based on weight, physical build, fat content, presentation, and training. Once the animals have been scored, the livestock sale gives interested buyers a chance to place bids on the animals.
Depending on the animal, a 4-H kid has the potential to earn thousands of dollars from the sale. Last year a steer could earn from $2,100 to $4,300. A swine ranged in price from $1,000 to $2,000, and the purchase price for lambs was between $500 and $1,500. Goats and turkeys also made an appearance at the sale, fetching a few hundred dollars apiece.
“I’ll take some of the money I make from the sale to buy new lambs and steers for next year,” said 15-year-old Lexi Kiniston. “The rest I’m putting away for college.”
4-H advisor Rod Hodge works closely with the kids in the livestock program. According to Hodge the kids are responsible for caring for their animals and for keeping extensive records. “Not only are they taught to care for their animals, but they also learn math and record keeping,” said Hodge. “They have to work together and help each other to learn the skills.”
A typical day in the life of a 4-H livestock project starts out similar to that of the Hietala brothers. Physical labor is a prominent element, but the kids are also required to weigh the amount of feed they give their animals, record the cost of the feed and then calculate how much money it costs for their animal to gain each pound. And each pound truly counts.
By fair time, pigs must meet a weight requirement of 220 to 275 pounds. Lambs should weigh in at 100 to 150 pounds, and steers must be 1,000 pounds or above. The choice weight for a steer is 1,250 to 1,400 pounds. If a steer falls within the choice weight parameters, it will fetch a higher price at the sale.
Ten-year-old Cody Blankmeyer of Ridgway is counting on his Hampshire pig to gain five more pounds by fair time. At an optional 4-H weigh-in last Thursday evening, Blankmeyer’s pig, Curious, was at 215 pounds. “Only five more to go,” said Blankmeyer. “We can do it no problem.”
By default, the 4-H livestock program is not just for the kids involved but for their parents as well. Peggy Kiniston has been supporting her daughter Lexi through seven years of livestock projects. “It’s a blast,” said Kiniston. “It teaches kids responsibility, values and hard work.”
According to Kiniston, the younger 4-H kids require more help from their parents with chores, duties and record keeping. Once the kids grow and learn the skills necessary to raise livestock, they can take sole responsibility for their animals. “Now that Lexi is older, she does everything for her steers and lambs,” said Kiniston. “Except on those rare occasions when she wants to sleep in. I’ll help her out on those mornings.”