The hot summer fair is in full swing. You are surrounded by the flashing lights of color swinging wildly in the air to the sound of flamboyant music. Screams echo out from these steel compartments controlled by the ticket holding ride operator. Yet, on the other end of the grounds it feels like a private party.
The red coliseum is filled; the highest capacity it will be all year. The July heat can be felt inside as hundreds of onlookers stare into the empty caged space before them. It is like the audience is in their own version of a roman coliseum awaiting gladiators to enter center stage. Instead of Romans, it’s cowboys in their truest form; the cattle auction. The final test for a group of young adults and children; the end of the road for the cattle they lead into the empty center.
SOLD! Is yelled from the loudspeakers and the audience claps. The girl leads her steer out of the coliseum towards the darkness.
One at a time they are led in by a leather halter. The auctioneer drives the price high as he calls his chant into the loudspeaker. Two men watch into the dark void of onlookers looking for bids. As hands rise they sharply yelp to the auctioneer. The numbers continue to climb. The child leading her steer around and around feels a sense of accomplishment as she knows this is her final test.
SOLD! Is yelled from the loudspeakers and the audience claps. The girl leads her steer out of the coliseum towards the darkness. The back gate is open on the cattle trailer. She leads her award-winning steer down the long aisle way, once filled with fair goers, to the awaiting men ready to help load him into the trailer. The excitement of the auction quickly dissolves into sadness. Hanging onto the side of the trailer, the last touch is laid on his head. The leather halter is slipped off and dropped by the girl’s side tightly in her hand. She walks off out of sight.
Quality Meat Animal Project
It is real, many don’t understand. Most of our food comes from farms and a staggering amount of children do not know that. The Quality Meat Animal Project is an activity offered to Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H. It’s a program to provide an educational experience for all participants that will enhance personal growth, and expand their knowledge of the livestock industry. This project also provides the participant with an economic return; however, the participant is to be kept informed that this may not present a realistic financial picture of the livestock industry and provide an educational learning-by-doing activity that allows the participant to take a livestock project from an infant animal to the final marketable product.
“Everything lives and everything dies. Death with a purpose gives full meaning to life.” ~Trent Loos
Life and death on the farm is a certainty that is dependent on for the survival of the farming community. This leads to heart wrenching experiences for children who raise animals from birth to then sell them at the county fair for a profit as they go for slaughter. This brutal part of responsibility is a necessary evil in the industry of agriculture. The skills learned in raising livestock instill values and an empowered work ethic that is unparalleled to those of their peers who do not share in the same farming experiences. These kids take great pride and care in raising the animal, feeding, grooming, bathing, preparing it for market; in essence giving the animal a home. There is often a connection and bond between the animal and its caretaker that is unmatched by how we raise pets today; these kids know when the end is. It is an impressive feat to watch the maturity of these young learners who lead their prized animals to the trailer of the purchaser; knowing their fate will end in the circle of life.
Barns to Carnival
Only a wooden opening separates two worlds. It’s the Northern Wisconsin State Fair in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. I stand in a narrow crowded walkway as an endless parade of people in flip-flops and strollers wheel through the thick stale air that surrounds me. A tangy smell of farm is strong, but manageable. The line of bodies point into wooden pens at whatever animal occupies them. Patiently making his way through the pointing flip-flop wearing bodies and strollers, a young boy lugs a full five gallon bucket to a pen he calls his own. The heavy pail of feed is hoisted up and emptied in front of his pig. All week-long I watch the children in this wooden barn working hard without any instruction. Cleaning, feeding, watering. On the other side of that wooden opening there in lies another world; children running, yelling, texting, and cohorting with friends, without the deep knowledge of the true circle of life. – text by Erika Johnson