BROOKSVILLE — The 60th anniversary of the Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Sale last week was a brilliant success — "Awesome," said president Sandra Nicholson.
"We ran out of tickets on (the last) Saturday," she said of the event, which spanned nine days. Nicholson herself opened a gate booth on Saturday to accommodate customers. Paid attendance numbered some 24,000, she said.
"We had a great year," Nicholson declared. "The weather sure helped." On the fair's last Saturday, she added, "We had the demolition derby and the 7 Bridges Band, the livestock sale; we had so much going on."
For the first time, the livestock sale encompassed all market species during a single auction, an attempt at helping buyers who couldn't make it to two sale nights.
Not everything ran like clockwork, however. One glitch developed in the livestock arena when the 3 p.m. scheduled sale was delayed for 15 minutes, then started without a posted sale order, which wasn't handed out until 3:40 p.m.
By then, the grand champion pen of meat rabbits and grand champion pen of meat chickens, both raised and exhibited by 6-year-old Brandon Leininger of Brooksville, were off the block.
Because prospective bidders weren't provided with information on him or his entries, he was the livestock sale's big loser. His mother, Joy Leininger, who owns Joy's Red Barn Rabbitry and Triple L Farms with her husband, Paul Leininger, bought each pen of three for a total of $15. They should have brought triple the price.
Hogs were the big winners in the youth livestock sale. Elysa Merino's grand champion 275-pound Yorkshire brought $3.40 a pound on a top bid by LRE Ground Services of Brooksville. The 18-year-old farmer and member of All Creatures Great and Small 4-H Club, in her ninth and last year of showing, plans to apply her earnings to enroll in cosmetology school.
The reserve champion market hog shown by Tabitha Loose of Brooksville Senior FFA commanded $2.90 a pound from Mike Knight, owner of Knight's Farm Fresh Feed in Bushnell. The Hampshire entry crossed the scale at a hefty 290 pounds.
Knight stood in the camera's flash again when he bought the reserve champion steer shown by 15-year-old Katie Ward representing Ropers and Wranglers 4-H Club. Her crossbred entry, at 1,125 pounds, garnered $2.35 a pound. She'll put most of her proceeds into a college fund and reserve about $1,300 to fund her next steer project, which will be the seventh in her 4-H career.
Buyer Knight said, "I sell a lot of feed and I thank the good Lord I can help these young'uns. We have some good kids coming through 4-H and FFA."
David Goodwin of Goodwin Brothers Construction in Brooksville continued his history of buying from the youths. He paid $2.50 a pound for the grand champion owned and shown by Garrett Bayne, 12, of the Jolly Rogers 4-H Club. It was his first year showing a steer, an Angus cross weighing 1,140 pounds.
Goodwin, an FFA alumnus who showed a steer at the 1987 fair and has purchased champions for the last three years, said, "It's to help the kids." He said he'd distribute the meat to the company's employees.
Exhibitor Bayne noted of his return on investment, "I'll put part in a college fund and buy me another steer."
Livestock sales averaged $1.80 pound for steers compared with an open market price of $1.17; market hogs, $1.70 against an open market price of $1.03; rabbits, $41.67 per pen of three; meat chickens, $62.14 per pen of three.
Of the fair overall, president Nicholson conceded, "There were a few bumps in the road. We're all volunteers … and do this once year."
One of those bumps, noted two 4-H Club leaders, came during the market swine show. The judge, Chad Carr, a University of Florida Extension swine specialist, didn't call back from conformation classes with finalists in fitting and showmanship, as is traditionally done by a second judge. Instead, Carr alone motioned in showmen with pigs that hadn't qualified for conformation trials because of their weight.
Explained livestock chairwoman Tammy Fincher, "We've only had one judge for the last couple of years. It's his choice as to whom he calls in. We don't mandate."
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]