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Wyatt Shinn paraded a pig around the auction ring with the words "yum yum" splashed across its body.

The savvy marketing ploy likely had anyone with an imagination smelling bacon.

In the same pen Saturday at the Western Montana Fair, Claire Shinn engaged the crowd. She flashed a beaming smile as she led her brown steer round and round.

"Boy, you got a pretty smile, kid," the auctioneer said into his microphone.

Saturday was the 2011 4-H and Future Farmers of America Livestock Sale, and fetching a good price at the auction took a village. After months raising livestock, teenagers primped - both their animals and each other. The auctioneer urged bidders along, and sometimes, the most generous buyers offered to pay more than their final bid to help out a youngster.

***

Bill Nooney is a former member of the fair board and has been coming to the fair for 55 years. In a Diamond Jim's Casino shirt, Nooney said he often voluntarily raises prices when he buys at the auction.

He said some children have popular last names, so they will get a bit more money for their animals. Other families' kids, though, aren't as well known in the community.

Nooney said they may get a lower price even if they worked just as hard.

"They learn that life isn't fair right there," Nooney said.

Buying beef for himself and others, Nooney said he likes to keep the prices even. He raised the cost of a steer he purchased for himself, and he sometimes raises the prices of those he buys for others, too.

"They all work hard and they deserve it," he said of the sellers.

Mike Svoboda, of Axmen Propane, shared the same philosophy. Sometimes, he said, certain kids don't know other people or businesses in the community, so they run short at the auction.

He bought a steer from a teenager who sold at a lower price than anyone else, "probably for no reason." So he paid an extra $130.

"It's the right thing to do," Svoboda said.

***

The teenagers and youngsters themselves work hard to present their best.

Some exhibitors doll up their animals. Amanda Thomas, 10, sprinkled glitter on the back of her lamb, Pebbles.

"I love glitter. We just thought we'd make it really bright," Amanda said.

She figured if the shine caught the eye of a buyer, the person might notice the lamb's strong qualities, too, like its long back. Amanda herself wore a new - and sparkly - shirt with jewel-studded cuffs and collar for the affair.

Paul Wilson, a Hellgate High School freshman, smiled and seemed to make eye contact with people in the audience as he led his steer around the ring.

"There's some tips the judge will give us before the show," Wilson said.

His father, grandpa and uncle also advise him on raising and showing animals. Wilson clips his steer's hair once in the spring and then again just before the auction, for instance.

"If you don't clip, then they get mangy," Wilson said.

He sold his animal for $2.50 a pound, his target price, and he'll earn roughly $1,000 profit. Wilson will pay his father, a rancher, for the animal, reimburse himself for the cost of feed, and he'll put the rest of the money in his savings account.

In the bathroom, Abby Indreland, 16, curled Secora Richardson's red hair into ringlets. Richardson, of Frenchtown High School, said she curled her hair for the auction partly to satisfy her mother.

***

The primping comes after months of hard work away from the limelight. Richardson, 16, has walked a pig up and down a hill every day to make sure its legs are strong. The hairdo is one small marketing touch on auction day.

"You go up there and you smile, and you're very receptive to people," Richardson said.

From his perch above the ring, the auctioneer prodded buyers, but he didn't have to encourage Jenn Standley.

She's a former 4-H member who upped her bid voluntarily to buy from Jordan Hemphill.

Hemphill is one of her daughter's best friends and a standout nursing student headed to Montana State University: "There's no more exceptional woman than Ms. Hemphill."

And Standley said she knows the money is going for a good cause.

"I know this money goes directly towards school."

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

 

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