The sound of the auctioneer calling prices with speed and rolling dictation, the scent of animal sweat and hair, the feel of that paper ticket clenched in your hand as you listen for your moment to …
The sound of the auctioneer calling prices with speed and rolling dictation, the scent of animal sweat and hair, the feel of that paper ticket clenched in your hand as you listen for your moment to raise the bid and win the animal being shown in the metal gated stage before the crowd... This is the thrill of the Wayne County 4-H and FFA Livestock Sale, which has run uninterrupted for nearly as many years as the Wayne County Fair itself. This year, however, the stands will remain empty and the animals at home on the farms of which they were raised.
It’s no mystery why this year’s sale won’t be held at the fairgrounds, but what about the animals? What about the 4-H & FFA members who still have an animal to sell so they can recoup their investment? Social media has been a blur of speculation and emotion, and with every one of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania making different decisions about what to do, it’s hard to know what can and cannot be done here in our backyard. Right next door in Susquehanna County, a virtual sale was organized under an independent organization to facilitate the ability to sell 4-H members’ livestock. This sale, and others like it across the state, have taken on this responsibility of their own volition and outside of the 4-H organization and Penn State Extension as a whole. By doing this, they’ve assumed liability and accounted for necessary insurance and other legal and financial requirements as dictated to hold events like this involving youth.
So what does this mean for Wayne County?
The Wayne County 4-H & FFA Programs have a livestock sale committee that oversees the decisions and function of the sale normally held at the fair. This committee, however, operates under the purview of the Penn State Extension program through which regulations about public functions are set. In short, the committee is unable to operate outside of the regulations and standards handed down by Penn State University. As such, regulations were imposed months prior to the sale that would not allow for the public auction or a virtual sale to be held. As a result, for more than a month now, 4-H and FFA members have been privately selling their animals to either new buyers or previous buyers whom they have dealt with in years past at the auction. This solution was developed by the Livestock Committee and Wayne County’s Penn State Extension office to best accommodate members and buyers alike. A mailing was sent out to previous buyers from years past explaining this process and providing information for them to call the extension office to place their name on a list to purchase members’ livestock, upon availability. Some 4-H members have used this opportunity to reach out through their own network and sell their livestock projects to new buyers for a negotiated price.
But wait, what about the animal shows?
Typically, members will trailer their animals to the fair in order to put them on display. The process would take between four or five days depending on the kind of livestock, and there would be much trimming of hooves and hair before the animals are led to the arena for competitions in animal quality as well as showmanship. This year, while the presentation of these animals in this fashion is not possible, the 4-H program is organizing a virtual showmanship show for members in August and a roundup to be held in October at the Park Street Complex in Honesdale. Here, members and their families will be able to show off their many projects in the form of educational displays, showing photos of their animals that will be judged similarly to years past in a clean environment where safe practices and social distancing can be observed.
What can be expected of the future of the Wayne County Fair and the 4-H & FFA programs?
The Wayne County Fair, like every other county fair in Pennsylvania this year, has, of course, been canceled. However, predicting the timeline of an unprecedented event like the current pandemic is next to impossible. It can only be assumed that fair officials will be seeking possible solutions to accommodate next year’s event in the likelihood that health and safety concerns will linger even past requirements for organizational shutdowns. 4-H, however, is already working diligently to provide a quality educational experience to members. In weeks past, kits have been sent to various members who volunteered to participate in a livestock or dairy camp in a box. Members who participated received newly developed training videos as well as stethoscopes and other tools necessary for practicing the skills to be taught in this event.
This event and others like it shed light on the reality that all the things we have come to love are not gone, but simply different for the time being. It is important as we navigate these uncertain times, that we remember to keep one eye fixed on the purpose of these gatherings. We may not be able to have a fair this year, but we can still celebrate the success of our youth. Members may not be able to gather in person in 4-H meetings, but they can still grow in their knowledge of livestock and other foundational skills.
For information related to current and future events related to Penn State Extension-Wayne County, call the office at 570/253-5970 ex. 4110. For information on purchasing the very few animals left for sale, ask for adult livestock and 4-H animal science educator Chelsea Hill. For general 4-H-related information, ask for 4-H coordinator Jessica Scull.
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