The auctioneer’s voice carried over the hum of the crowd as he rattled off numbers at the Western Montana Fair Livestock Sale Saturday Morning.
“I’ve got two, gimme two-and-a-quarter, two-and-a-quarter…” the auctioneer said as Halle McVicker, who raised this year’s grand champion of market beef, was first to show off her glitter-dusted 1,385-pound steer to prospective buyers.
Walter, a Maine Angus cross, sold to Abbey Carpet and Floor for $3.50 a pound, adding up to a grand total of $4,847.50. McVicker, like many of her fellow competitors, said she is saving the money up for college.
She hopes to attend either Carroll College or Montana State University to become an emergency room nurse.
McVicker has been competing since she was 9, and this year is her first time as grand champion. Over the last eight years she has showed three sheep and five steers.
“I cried when I was named grand champion,” she recalled. “All my hard work paid off.”
McVicker began caring for her calf in October, spending four to five hours a day with him. She weighed Walter every month so that feed levels could be adjusted, allowing the steer to be just the right size come fair time.
After years of showing steers, and being the youngest of three girls, all involved with 4-H, she knew exactly what the judges were looking for: thick coverage on the ribs and broad shoulders — both signs there's a lot of meat on Walter's bones.
The years have also taught her how to charm the buyers. Weeks before the fair began, McVicker personally gave buyers a brochure filled with information about herself, her steer and the sale. She wanted to ensure that if a buyer was hoping to go home with a steer, it’d be hers. If that wasn’t enough, she also doused her steer in glitter after shampooing and conditioning Walter.
In another part of the arena, Abigail Riska, with Blue Mountain 4-H, attached green dragonflies to her 262-pound Hampshire hog, Wrangler. For Riska the decorations were more than just something to pique buyers' interest: They were a tribute to a friend who died two years ago by suicide.
The Mark Teague Memorial Sponsorship Fund was created in her friend's memory after his parents brought the steer he’d been raising to the auction, Riska said. They made about $5,000 and have been giving out $500 sponsorships to help get kids get started in their 4-H projects.
“He’s the one who got me interested in pigs,” Riska said about Teague. This year, her dragonfly-adorned hog went to the Pink Grizzly for $4.50 a pound, leaving Riska $1,179 richer.
Valarie Warehime, who is on the sale committee, said she's stayed involved with 4-H for more than 30 years because of her love for agriculture and the youth involved.
“It’s a great place for young people to learn life skills,” she said. Most of the kids take complete care of their animals, including budgeting for feed and vaccinations.
Warehime said many of the kids, especially the young ones, are sad on auction day because they know what’s next for the animal they’ve spent hundreds of hours with over the past few months, but many of them have already set their sights on their next livestock project.