Blue ribbons, money and tears: The highs and lows of sale night at the 2019 Routt County Fair
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Hayden’s livestock barn and show ring swarmed with noise during the final night of the Routt County Fair as an auctioneer rattled off prices like artillery fire over wails of sheep.
Twelve-year-old Ralee Clyncke appeared unperturbed by the ruckus as she sucked in her cheeks and led her lamb, Crazy, on a few practice trots along an unfrequented portion of the dirt floor.
“I am just trying to get him walking around so he isn’t so nervous,” Ralee said, admitting she felt jitters of her own as the clock dwindled until she would have to sell her meat lamb.
For many young fair participants, the livestock sale is both the most anticipated and the most dreaded event of the week.
It marks the culmination of months of training, a time when they get to show off their animals to potential buyers and reap the financial benefits from their hard work.
It also serves as a sobering reminder they do not have much longer with their animals, and soon will have to make their final goodbyes.
Some shrug off the loss, having understood this as an inevitable conclusion.
Hannah Koly, 13, even named her goat, Cookie, after one of her favorite foods to remind her of its ultimate destiny.
But others cannot help but develop a personal connection and hope, beyond reason, that the love they feel for their animals will not end in tears.
Braden Jenrach, also 13, sprayed his steer, Winchester, with mousse to make its fur glisten under the show lights. He said it is a way to impress the audience and make some extra cash in a sale.
But Braden does not consider his steer a mere commodity.
“I think of him like a pet,” he said, patting Winchester as one would a dog.
After training with the steer for almost a year, sharing dawn-early mornings and moonless nights, Braden has learned its quirks and fancies. Winchester, for example, almost drools during a good butt scratch.
“They are like big puppy dogs,” said 16-year-old Gracie Day as she blow-dried the fur of her steer, Duke, who also had a drooling tendency.
This year has been a particularly hard one for Gracie, who tore her ACL and meniscus playing basketball for Hayden High School. The injury and resulting surgery has made it difficult for her to adequately prepare for the fair.
“I haven’t been able to work with him as much as I would like to,” she said.
All week, she has been limping on crutches, which prevented her from leading Duke around in the showmanship and market competitions. As she prepared the steer for the sale, combing its fur clean of any straw or dirt, Gracie hoped she could walk him on Saturday in front of the audience.
Elsewhere, parents and grandparents lent a hand to make sure their young ones appeared decent enough for the public eye.
Nine-year-old Addi Whaley got a quick “spit bath” from her grandmother, Kelly Gates. After a few hard scrubs to the cheeks with the palm of her hand, Gates sent Addi off to wait her turn for the show ring.
One by one, the young livestock owners entered the gated arena, adorning smiles as they paraded their animals to the tune of the auctioneer.
The money from the sale can be instrumental to the future of many fair participants. Kimberly Gray, 11, won two grand championship ribbons this year — one for her lamb, Joe, and another for her pig, Sassy.
After three years of showing livestock, Kimberly has grown accustomed to saying “goodbye” to her meat animals. She thinks more of what the money will allow to her to do than the loss that comes with it. Kimberly won $4,200 from her sheep alone.
With a passion for animals, and an apparent knack for handling them, Gray wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. She said some of the money she gets from each year’s sale goes toward her college fund.
But not all can end the night so optimistically. As the sky darkened and the auctioneer neared the end of the list of animals up for sale, the reality of the moment began to weigh on young minds and hearts.
For them, the pain of goodbye is as real and visceral as the loss of a family pet.
“When you make a connection with them, they are just the sweetest thing,” Gracie Day said, her eyes suddenly welling up with tears. She turned away to look at her steer, Duke. She was not able to lead him in the show ring, but she stood by its side as the animal sold for $4,400.
“Sunday is actually the worst day,” Gracie said.
That is when trailers arrive at the livestock barn to take the meat animals to slaughter. They usually arrive before dawn, before many of the children are awake to see.
“But I’ll be here,” she said.
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