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By Joe Naiman
Village News Reporter 

County fair to host online market livestock show and auction


Last updated 6/5/2020 at 1:08pm

Village News/Shane Gibson photo

Fallbrook High student Kassidy Ewig feeds her steer while making a daily visit to care for livestock during the school's closure, April 6. The students with pigs, steer and goats were able to sell their animals even though the San Diego County Fair was canceled.

The San Diego County Fair market livestock show for 4-H and Future Farmers of America members will be a virtual show this year. Both exhibitors who will be participating in the subsequent online auction and students whose animals are pre-sold can participate in the virtual fair process and earn awards if their animals are judged worthy of such honors.

"There will be a virtual show and a virtual auction," said San Diego County Fair exhibits director Jacky Eshelby.

The county fair board made the decision to hold the virtual show and auction May 19. A May 18 virtual presentation reviewed the plans with the county's 4-H and FFA group leaders, and the decision was released to the 4-H leaders and FFA advisors May 20.

Although there had been previous discussion about an online auction, no final decision had been made before May 19. "We did not know that anything was going to come together," said Fallbrook FFA adviser Doug Sehnert.

FFA and 4-H projects include a business plan which addresses the financial expenses of raising the animals and the revenue from the sale at auction or a barn sale. The business plan includes finding buyers for the animals, both at an auction if the recruited buyer is not outbid and in the event of a barn sale.

"Our community really stepped up and we were able to sell the animals," Sehnert said.

That will limit the Fallbrook FFA animals at the auction. "We will have a few kids participate," Sehnert said. "I have just a few kids with lambs to sell."

All 36 Fallbrook FFA pigs, all 12 Fallbrook FFA steer, and all six Fallbrook FFA goats have already been sold. "We still have a few lambs for sale," Sehnert said.

Some Fallbrook 4-H members will likely also be entering their lambs in the fair auction. "I have a couple of kids who are going to do the auction," said Fallbrook 4-H leader Jennifer McMullen.

Fallbrook FFA members raised more than two dozen pigs, approximately a dozen lambs, two steers and two goats. Currently one pig and a few lambs remain unsold.

"A lot of these businesses have been reaching out to me to try to see what they can do," McMullen said. "I want to thank all the people who reached out to help."

One 4-H member had planned to raise meat rabbits with the support of family members. "They decided not to breed them this year," McMullen said. "They decided to drop out of the project because of the quarantine."

Not breeding rabbits can be accomplished by keeping male rabbits and female rabbits separate, which McMullen does in her DeLuz home. "I have the rabbits here. I don't sell them directly to the kids unless they want to do the projects," she said.

All market animals must be taken to a processing plant approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. No such rabbit meat processing plant exists in the area. "Unfortunately, we are unable to accommodate the rabbit projects this year with the constraints which have been placed on us by state rules mandated by the Division of Fairs and Expositions," Eshelby said.

When the auction actually occurs on the fairgrounds the buyers physically take home the rabbits, which is also the case for rabbits purchased at a barn sale. Because the virtual auction livestock will subsequently be shipped to the fair, the inability to process rabbit meat led to the elimination of rabbits as part of the livestock market show.

Students who have pre-sold an animal may still enter the market livestock show. "They can still enter the animal in the virtual show and be part of that," Eshelby said.

"I've got a handful of kids who are going to go ahead and do the virtual show part," Sehnert said.

The entrants will be sent a PDF file with a tag for each animal. "We'll give each exhibitor in the show a number," Eshelby said. "The exhibitors will upload 90-second videos."

That will allow the judges to view the animal in various positions. The video must be submitted by June 20.

"They're asking for estimations of weight," Sehnert said.

The Fallbrook FFA barn has scales suitable for steers, pigs, goats and lambs. Fallbrook 4-H has scales which can weigh pigs, goats and lambs, and Sehnert will allow Fallbrook 4-H to use the FFA scales for the 4-H steers.

"It's up to the exhibitor to come up with an estimated weight," Eshelby said.

That may not create perfect weight division brackets, but the lightweight, mediumweight, heavyweight, and superheavyweight champions and reserve champions will be judged for both 4-H animals and for FFA animals. The weight class champions and reserve champions will compete for FFA grand and reserve champion and 4-H grand and reserve champion, and those four grand and reserve champions will compete for supreme grand champion and supreme reserve champion.

The judging will take place June 22-24 and will be live through video. "The judge will actually talk about the animal," Eshelby said.

The judges will announce the top champions June 25 at 6 p.m., although they will not be at the fairgrounds. "They'll be virtual, too. They'll be calling in," Eshelby said.

An animal must receive a blue ribbon, which indicates market quality, to be sold at the fair auction. That includes meeting weight, health and other criteria. The blue-ribbon standards will be enforced when the animals are sent to the fair for processing. "They still have to meet minimum qualifications when we take possession of the animal," Eshelby said.

An exhibitor may only sell one large animal at auction (an exception is made if the same person raises more than one FFA or 4-H grand champion or reserve champion animal). That will still be the case. "They can show as many as they want in the virtual show, but they can only sell one animal," Eshelby said.

When the auction is held in person the supreme grand champion and the supreme reserve champion are the first animals to be auctioned. A pre-sold animal is still eligible to win those awards even though it will not go to the auction block. "We want to reward the kids who went out and found buyers," Eshelby said. "That's my biggest concern, making sure we have a buyer for each animal."

If the animal is not sold at auction a barn sale is negotiated, and that often involves a fixed price. The in person auction sells animals by the pound.

"The virtual sale will be per head," Sehnert said. "It's not going to be per pound."

That will be one change for this year's auction. "It will be a little bit different not only because it's virtual," Eshelby said.

What could be called a practice session for buyers will take place Friday, June 26. "The first day will be considered like a preview auction so you can bid," Eshelby said. "People who are new to it can kind of look through the process."

Updates on the process will be posted on, which can be accessed directly from the web rather than necessarily from Facebook.

The actual auction will begin at 9 a.m. June 27, which is a Saturday. "They'll be able to talk about each exhibitor and their animal," Eshelby said.

A preview auction was held at the Sacramento County Fair over Memorial Day Weekend. "Every animal had a live bid after the first day of preview, so it was very helpful to the students," Eshelby said.

The online auction has the potential of attracting additional buyers. "A lot of people are getting interested in it because you don't have to be live at the fairgrounds," Eshelby said.

Another advantage of the virtual auction is that the exhibitor can have additional involvement. "It has the ability to interact with your social media," Eshelby said.

Some buyers do not have the animal processed themselves but donate it back to the fair for resale. The proceeds of those resales provide funding for the Junior Livestock Auction Scholarship program, which also receives some money from direct donations. "Anybody can come buy an animal, donate it back to the scholarship fund," Eshelby said.

The application deadline for the Junior Livestock Auction Scholarship grants, as well as the Don Diego Scholarship awards, preceded the decision to cancel this year's county fair and the scholarships will still be awarded. Eshelby anticipates that the scholarship award recipients will be announced in mid-June. "We are hoping to go live with that," she said.

During a market livestock show on the fairgrounds an auction book is published which includes the Junior Livestock Auction Scholarship and Don Diego Scholarship recipients as well as the animals available for auction. This year such an auction book will be available online, and the scholarship recipients will be noted. "We will definitely include that in all of our promotional material," Eshelby said.

Two versions of the online auction book will be posted. The first will include the scholarship recipients and the estimated weight of the animals. Once the top-level grand and reserve champions are determined that information will be added.

The market livestock virtual show will not include the feeder classes for goats and lambs, whose weight champions do not compete with the other weight champions for 4-H and FFA grand and reserve champion honors and which are not sold at auction. "We're only doing things with market animals," Eshelby said.

Exhibitors of feeder class goats and lambs, dairy goats, and breed animals have another option. The physical fair has a Creative Youth exhibit for students from kindergarten through sixth grade while the Student Showcase features art, photography, and other projects by students who were between seventh grade and twelfth grade during the school year. This year those two exhibits will be combined into a virtual exhibit.

"We're just going to show these through a video," Eshelby said. "We're pretty excited about being able to come up with that."

That virtual exhibit is the result of teachers requesting such an opportunity for students. More than 1,000 entries were submitted. "I think that's a testament to how important the county fair is," Eshelby said.

The nonmarket animals can be part of that virtual show, as can non-animal projects. "It doesn't have to be the animals," McMullen said. "This year we have about 18 different projects."

Fallbrook 4-H may use that show to recognize members whose projects don't involve market animals. "We're hoping to highlight those as well," McMullen said.

"Whatever we're doing we're going to showcase them that way," McMullen said. "I think the kids need to know it's important that their project matters, too."


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