The months of long, hard work put in by the kids in the 4-H Junior Market Livestock (JML) program is about to pay off literally.
The Kenai Peninsula State Fair returns to Ninilchik this weekend, and with it comes the JML auction, which gets under way at noon Saturday.
"The livestock auction is open to anyone interested in being a buyer," said 4-H leader Kacey Cooper. "People don't have to be a business to purchase an animal or part of an animal."
In fact, individuals make up a large portion of the buyers every year, according to 4-H leader Nancy Veal.
"Sometimes it's grandmas and grandpas, aunt and uncles," she said.
Buyers also may meet before the auction to discuss forming co-ops to go in together to buy an animal.
Many people don't realize what goes into the JML program, but the 4-H leaders said it's no easy task.
"They're not getting these animals a week or two before the auction," Cooper said. "These kids made a long-term commitment. The fair is a culmination of a year's worth of work."
Veal expanded even further on the program.
"Members acquire their steers in November or December and raise them all year long," she said. "Hogs, lambs, turkeys, geese, pheasants and goats are purchased in April and May; and smaller poultry and rabbits in June and July."
The kids not only do the work to raise the animals until it's time to sell them at the auction, but also pay the food bill. So what do the kids get out of it?
A lot, according to Veal.
"They learn about feeding, grooming, veterinary care and record keeping. They get practice in observation, public speaking, community service and leadership. They become responsible, caring citizens," Veal said.
The kids also attend a series of seminars designed to help them during the auction.
"They learn things like how to butcher and what the different cuts of meat are and where on the animals they're found," Cooper said. "They also learn ethics, such as it's acceptable to wash and oil down your pig before the auction to get it looking its best, but it would be unacceptable to hide or lie about any health problems an animal may have."
The kids are given 10 business names they must make contact with to talk about the JML program and the auction.
"This is a great experience for the kids to learn to interact with business people," Veal said.
The kids aren't the only ones who benefit from the auction, though.
"Anyone can come," Cooper said. "The people who do know they're getting an animal that is hormone free, raised locally, and that they got a lot of exercise."
These can be comforting thoughts in these times when disease scares such as mad cow and Newcastle disease are so common and diseases in humans have been linked to tainted meat.
After purchase, people have several options in regard to their meat. They can butcher it themselves, have the kids do it or take it to a professional.
People interested in supporting 4-H can pay more than the price per pound if they desire to be generous. And people who don't eat meat are welcome to come and make donations to support 4-H programs.
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