Brianne Bly, 19, says the drought has made it difficult to raise animals for this year's Howard County Fair. She should know.
For 10 years, she has been raising steers, sheep and pigs to sell at the fair's 4-H livestock auction. Many of the animals were born on her family's farm.
Last night's auction was the last for Bly because membership in 4-H is for those ages 8 to 19.
Bly brought three steers, two sheep and two pigs to the auction, and one of each -- Zander the steer, Jacob the sheep and Eve the pig -- were sold for slaughter.
"I sold my first lamb when I was 9, and I have been going ever since," said Bly of Mount Airy. "It's going to be sad. I fell in love with my red steer [Zander] ever since I first saw him."
Last night, fair officials auctioned 40 steers, 80 pigs, 65 lambs, and chickens, goats and rabbits.
During the weigh-in, officials rejected 30 lambs, 25 pigs and two steers that did not meet minimum weight standards. Last year, a total of five in the three categories were refused for the auction, said Martin Hamilton, the county's 4-H extension educator.
The problem this year is twofold: heat and drought.
"It's been hard on the animals," Bly said. "If they are not comfortable, they are not going to eat right" and won't grow to their optimal size.
The animals generally need to be in temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees, Hamilton said. With temperatures regularly in the 90s, the animals have to be cooled more often.
"You could see the animals were excited" when the weather cooled off this week, Hamilton said.
In the past, 4-H members watered their animals and sprayed them with hoses more often. This year, that was not always an option, particularly for those using well water.
"We didn't want to use up all our water," Bly said. "There isn't enough."
Bly has devoted about 10 hours a week to her animals for the past 18 months.
"These animals teach them responsibility," said Theresa Bly, Brianne's mother. "These are lessons they will use as adults."
That's the point of raising the animals for the auction, teaching the 4-H members farming and lessons in life.
During the auction, the 4-H members paraded their animals before bidders and spectators. Some children carried animals that were bigger than they were. Others had animals that were difficult to control.
Businesses support auction
The bidders were mostly businesses. NationsBank bought a chicken and a goat, Safeway a goat and Flemming Furniture of Mount Airy the grand champion steer, which weighed 1,253 pounds and cost just over $5,000.
"It's a way for them to advertise," said Mitchell Day, president of the Fair Association.
Proceeds from the auction go to the 4-H members, who use the money for donations to charitable causes and to pay off debts for feed. Feeding a steer for a year costs about $500.
Funding for education
"A lot of older ones have funded their college education with the proceeds," Hamilton said.
That's Bly's plan. She expects Zander to sell for about $1,500 and help pay her college tuition. She has enrolled at Carroll Community College and hopes to become an elementary school teacher.
"She just loves being around children," Theresa Bly said. "And she loved taking care of her animals."
The 54th annual weeklong fair in West Friendship ends Saturday. Day said the event has attracted about 55,000 visitors.