Grand decline: Oil and gas, commodity prices decrease seen at fair
Twins Kayla and Jenna Frink, 19, combine for five grand champion sheep between the Weld County and Colorado State fairs between the past four seasons.
At this year’s state fair, the bid for Jenna’s grand champion lambs drew a $20,000 bid. Kayla’s reserve drew in $12,000. Those earnings went into the twins’ college funds. Both are sophomores with Kayla at Northeastern Junior College and Jenna at Colorado State University.
The twins also have scholarships to help with a chunk of tuition costs — something to be thankful for in a time when many college students have to go deep into debt just to get a degree.
“It’s a huge benefit for us,” said Mike Frink, Jenna and Kayla’s dad who serves as chairman of the junior livestock sale committee for the Weld County Fair. “Jenna and Kayla, they¹re going to finish their sophomore year without any debt.”
The two were fortunate. They rode the oil and gas boom. But with the decrease in the industry, coupled with the low commodity prices cramping the industry, Weld livestock champions are not making as much as they were even a couple years ago.
This year’s grand champion steer earned $9,000 less than the champion won two years ago.
There’s always an understanding that the market can be really good, average or low. The sad thing, at least for some of rising 4-H stars, is the trend is moving back toward to what the prices used to be, which means the champions won’t earn as much for their college education.
There’s a reason the animals that make it to the auction earn more than market value, and it’s more than a symbolic prize. They put in a lot of work to make their animals valuable.
Paul Cooksey, 18, of Roggen and his twin brother, Lyle, spent about four-five hours a day working with their steers during the summer. Part of the routine includes washing, feeding and blowing the hair to get it show-ready once they take their animals out of the hot sun.
It takes a while to get the cattle’s hair trained. Alyssa DePorter, 18, of Eaton’s grand champion steer this year was unusually fluffy compared to other steers at the fair.
That’s because she started to train the hair in December, many months before the fair.
They spend hours walking with the animals as if they were showing them at the fairs, building the animals’ muscles as well as a relationship that helps them keep control of their animal in the show ring.
At night, once it cools off enough, the kids will then take the animals out, back into the pasture.
Many kids also show in jackpots throughout the summer with the animals they plan to show at either county or state. This is useful to them because it gets their animals acquainted with those they don’t interact with on a daily basis. It also gives the exhibitors a chance to brush up on their showmanship as well. But it takes hours out of their weekend.
When the auctioneer steps up and bidding starts, it always starts with the grand and reserve champion of all the animals. At this year’s Weld Fair, there were a few times the auctioneer mentioned an animal was a champion, as if to remind those present the price tag might be more than some of the other bids that were coming in. It’s farmers, agriculture companies and oil and gas companies that compete for the animals most of the time, especially for beef. Those always have top dollar at the fair.
The bids at the Weld County Fair level are about giving back to the community and helping the kids. But there’s also a certain amount of prestige for those who buy the grand beef.
Sam Brown, a Colorado businessman in Pueblo, and his family have been part of the state auction for 50 years as buyers. He’s been almost in a competition against himself to reach new record highs every year. This year it was a $62,000 bid on the top steer. Last year he had the top beef animals for a $60,000 tag. The Colorado State Fair grand and reserve champion beef have continued to break records, as have the other livestock.
But Weld County doesn’t have a Sam Brown.
STATE VS. WELD
Even with the decline in how much the grand and reserve champion received, Mike said the Weld Fair still did better than he thought it would this year.
Even so, the juxtaposed earning for the top animals between state and Weld show the different economic dependencies different parts of the Colorado community have.
Weld has been dependent on oil and gas companies to hit the record highs the past years, and the economic downturn is now reflected in those decreased bids. But the competition is also a large factor to get those top bids coming.
Weld County is noted as one of the most competitive county fairs in the state. That’s why the drop — while large — still has a large payout. Morgan County, which is just to the east, is the No. 3 county in the state for the value of their agriculture products sold, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Their beef grand champion earned $4,400 this year — well below the Weld’s grand beef.
The Colorado State Fair brings out the best of the best across the state to show their livestock. But because the top animals are reserved for the state fair, many 4-Hers will spend more on their animals than they would at the county fair.
The competition is higher, so it’s harder to get those top two slots.
For those who are able to get champion animals, the payout is great. It’s record breaking. But that’s where the differences end.
“The sales aren’t really different, except for at state fair, the champions get a lot more than at county fair,” Kayla said.
Cooksey saw that this year.
At Weld County, Cooksey earned $4,000 in the beef auction, and he made $250 more at state.
Like Kayla said, the sales are similar unless there is a champion.
It’s a risk, but it’s a risk with a potential $62,000 reward.
It’s not just the livestock sales that help the 4-H kids with their earnings.
“From my point of view, it’s so important to help the next generation of agriculture,” Jenna said. “When (buyers) are bidding for the grand champion steer or lamb or something, they’re supporting that next generation.”
And that’s what sets the Weld and other county fairs apart from state. Community members aren’t just investing in agriculture. They’re investing in kids and families they know and work with on a daily basis.
Those community members know and understand how the market affects agriculture on a day-to-day basis. They’re also well aware of how important college can be, and how expensive and hard it’s getting to afford high education.
Jenna, Kayla, Paul and DePorter are seeking agriculture-based majors and careers. Jenna, Kayla and Paul all have majors and goals that will keep them involved in the agriculture industry. That means those who invested in these four, and many of the other 4-H kids, are also investing into the future of agriculture.
The same is true for those who purchase livestock at any level the kids participate in.
“I think the state fair is a great opportunity for them to come out and support kids throughout the state in one convenient locations,” said Sarah Cummings, general manager for he Colorado State Fair.
Since the state’s current grand and reserves are continuing to break records, while the county is moving back into its normal after riding the oil and gas boom.
But when it comes to those who sell at auction and don’t make a grand or reserve, the payout will normally be about the same between state and county fair.
And even with the declining amount the top animals were in Weld the past couple of years, it’s not a worry for those who know how the system works.
“State fair is a lot bigger payout when you have grand or reserve,” Mike said. “Once you get past reserve, the Weld County sale is actually better on the average. Like Lauren, she sold a lamb at state fair, and she got $2,000. Well, she got $2,500 lamb at the county fair. Our sale is truly blessed in the fact that for the non-champions, they get supported very well.” ❖
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