In Carroll, showcasing 4-H'er animal instincts

Livestock: Mike Utz, like many other young participants at the county fair, rakes in a respectable amount of money from the auction.

August 08, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

After the last ribbons are handed out at the Carroll County 4-H/FFA Fair, some serious money starts changing hands when county bigwigs open their checkbooks to bid two to four times the market value on steers, lambs, hogs and other animals that fetch about $179,000 a year.

Some of the money raised in the livestock auctions that are the culmination of the fair is donated to the fair or scholarship funds, but most 4-H members keep at least enough to cover feed costs, which can easily reach $1,000, and to build their savings for college.

"I made $3,500 last year," said Mike Utz, 15, of Lineboro, whose 1,200-pound steers were grand champion this year and last. Last year, his steer fetched the highest price, $2.50 a pound, when the market rate was 50 to 65 cents a pound.

Friday night, he received $5,376 -- or $4.20 a pound -- for his grand champion steer, Claude. Winning bidder was C. J. Miller Inc., an excavation and paving company.

Most steers at the fair sell for about $1 a pound. A grand champion always earns more. Mike also sold lambs at the auction and in the spring sold young lambs for $75 each to 4-H members to raise for the fair.

`24-seven'

"I work all year," Mike said. "I've had these steers since November. It's nice to get paid for your work. It's a full-time, 24-seven job."

The successful bidders on Mike's animals admire his entrepreneurial spirit. Developer Martin K. P. Hill and C. J. Miller owner Charles J. "Buck" Miller went in on Mike's steer from last year. Miller employs Mike's father, Dennis Utz, and all three men sometimes work together on projects.

Hill said such family and business connections usually figure in bidding on 4-H animals.

"Mike's father works closely with us, and Mike has been very successful with his animals," Hill said. "When he has champions and reserve champions, where he has a lot of work invested in them, we try to support him. He's a totally focused young man."

Before the fair, Mike alerts Hill, Miller and others that he will have worthy animals at the auction. He was 9 when he auctioned his first livestock.

"I started out with two sheep, Woody and Mae, six years ago, and it's built me up to 20 breeding ewes, seven market hogs and two steers," Mike said.

He has refined the way he chooses a calf, the daily washing and grooming that produce an attractive animal, and the feed mix of 100 percent grain that will ensure tender meat.

He uses the money from each year's sales to increase his stock the next year. He also plans to invest some money in the stock market to build his college fund.

"I'd like to have enough to get me through a year or two of college. And if I'm accepted, I can get a scholarship through livestock judging," he said.

He wants to attend the University of Maryland, College Park and perhaps become a veterinarian or an extension agent working with 4-H youngsters.

`A way to give back'

Carroll County businesses such as R. D. Bowman feed store and Finch Services, a John Deere dealer, are among the largest buyers at the livestock auction. They see it as a way to give back to the agriculture community.

Many 4-H members buy their feed from Bowman, for example, and their parents might buy tractors from Finch.

"We feel like it's a way to give back to the people who support us from year to year," said Dirk Bowman, co-owner of the feed company.

He usually spends $5,000 to $7,000 on three steers and a few pigs. He donates one steer to be butchered for raffle prizes at the fair and the other two for the fair organizers to resell at a commercial livestock auction. The proceeds help pay for expansion of the Carroll County Agriculture Center.

In that way, Bowman said, he contributes to the children who raise the animals as well as to something benefiting all 4-H youth.

Farmers such as Deborah Gwynne, who lives near Taneytown, has enough beef steers to raise and sell but buys animals to support the fair. Last year, she offered to buy the lambs that hadn't sold because they lacked the weight and grade to be auctioned.

It might be easier to make a large, tax-deductible donation to the fair or to a scholarship fund at the end of each year, but it wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

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