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May 19, 2009 11:28 PM

Livestock Auction: Healdsburg Future Farmers Country Fair, 5/23

This weekend is the auction of beef, sheep, rabbits, swine, and poultry raised by 4H and FFA boys and girls in the Healdsburg area, an opportunity to bid on hand-raised, prize-winning local meat.

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  1. My parents and their friends do this every year. It is a great cause and great reward on top of that!

    4 Replies
    1. re: bouffe

      I've not been to a livestock auction since I was a 4Her myself, which was a long time ago. But I'm thinking about going this weekend. Could you please tell us more about it? Maybe the general price level, the arrangements for butchering and delivery, things a consumer would need to know.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I have only participated in the eating part of the ordeal but I can give you some of the information that I have gathered.

        You are going to spend a lot to purchase a whole animal ($400-$500 is what I remember), I would go in with a group of people and split up the costs however this might be tricky when dividing up the butchered parts. Though a whole beast will feed you and 3 others for a year more than likely. However, they do butcher the animal to your liking. So you do not have to have 4 large parts of a pig, you can have the "typical" sections butchered for you. I am not sure about delivery. Maybe this If I find out more information from my mother I will re-post it!

        1. re: bouffe

          That's helpful, thanks! Any other details you can provide would be appreciated.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Kind of reminds me of Mike's at the Yard in Petalima.

    2. Melanie (or others),
      Do you know if they raise/sell lamb, or only mutton (maybe I incorrectly read "sheep" as mutton?)? Is dairy available? trying to decide whether it's worth the trip for us.... Thanks.

      1 Reply
      1. re: chowwow

        They definitely sell lambs since my nephew used to raise them for this. Don't know about anything else.

      2. I did check out the fair and the auction, and have some info to report for future reference in this thread.

        I headed over to the fair in early afternoon, wandered around the stalls to check out the animals and noshed at the various booths selling food. This is truly a locals event as all the booths were sponsored by community organizations. They offered typical fair food such as burgers, grilled skewers, chili, funnel cakes, cotton candy, nachos, pizzas (from DiVine), shave ice, ice cream specialties, and baked goods. At least four were selling corn dogs, however, one had a sign emphasizing FRESH corn dogs. The last one was sold to the woman just ahead of me in line, so I didn’t get to try it. I can recommend the garlic fries from the Kiwanis club, crispy on the outside with smooth and creamy interiors and coated with lots of fresh parsley and garlic. I had a nice root beer float from La Soccería, benefiting Healdsburg Girls Soccer, made with A&W root beer. The soccer club was also offering plates of “authentic Mexican food”. The Dry Creek Neighbors Association continued their long-standing fudge-making tradition to raise money for college scholarships. They produced nearly 200 pounds this year, and I got one of the last packs.

        I bought a few raffle tickets for Sir Rusty XLIII. Sir Rusty is the steer who is magically reincarnated each year for this raffle. Each donation of $1 buys a chance on two awards of $500 Painted Hills beef or $500 cash, one choice lamb or $100 cash. The tickets have discounts from local businesses that are worth far more than the $1, so these are a good deal even if you don’t win. Buy one hamburger and 2 drinks and get a second hamburger free at Fitch Mountain Eddie’s, $1 off a $5 or more purchase at Powell’s Sweet Shoppe in Healdsburg, $10 off $100 worth of automotive service at Fincher’s Auto Service in Healdsburg, and $1, $2 or $3 off any medium, large or x-large pizza, respectively, at Round Table Pizza in Santa Rosa, Windsor, Sonoma, Healdsburg, Lakeport or Ukiah.

        To register as a bidder, I filled out a buyers card with my contact info and stated custom cut and wrap facility preference (i.e., Martindale’s, Willowside Meats or Bud’s Custom Meats). I’ll note that the buyers terms (see photo) state, “The processing plant cannot supply whole carcasses.”

        Then I was admitted to the buyers dinner, served under the oaks. The BBQ buffet of tri-tip, grilled pork loin, ranch beans, salad, bread, plus beer and wine, was prepared by King Catering with beverage donations from Eagle Distributing and local wineries. I enjoyed a 2006 Wilson Dry Creek Zinfandel with my meal.

        The auction started at 5:30pm. Three auctioneers, including Bruce Campbell of CK Lamb, helped warm up the crowd. I was shivering in the bleachers, dressed in a tee and linen pants, moving to stay in the sun on this cool afternoon. I did observe the first 60 lots, which took nearly two hours. I took some notes on prices and buyers for the steer, first group of lambs, rabbits, and some of the hogs (see photos), before I was thoroughly chilled and had to leave. I was really impressed by the boys and girls, the confidence they demonstrated in the show ring, and their accomplishments. Some of the younger ones, looking about 10 years old, were tiny compared to the size of their animals but did a terrific job of handling and controlling them. My memories from when I was that age is of kids trying to fight back tears or bawling in the ring. Here I didn’t see anyone cry, these 4-H and FFA members were pros and made of sterner stuff, earning money for college.

        The auction program shows the full weight for each animal. However buyers are required to pay only to a maximum weight of 1200 pounds for beef, 130 pounds for lamb, and 250 pounds for swine. The rabbits are three to a pen, comprising one lot. I didn’t stick around for the poultry lots. The program doesn’t include breed details. I did see that the rabbits were New Zealanders and Californians in the display area.

        My sense is that prices were depressed this year because the auctioneers backed down from their starting price points for the first few lots of each class, which would normally be the highest of the sale. They worked really hard at getting prices up for the sale to benefit the children. The sale prices in my notes are what I think I heard over the loudspeakers and haven’t been verified, so they are only a guide and not the official prices. The animals in these initial lots were all blue ribbon winners, and later lots with some second place animals may have sold for less as the crowds thinned. Steer prices ranged from $2.50 to $5.00 per pound, lamb from $5.00 to $11.50 per pound, swine $5.00 to $10.00 per pound, and rabbits from $300 to $750 for a pen of three. If I were a 4-H girl today, I’d be raising bunnies! Buyers of the Grand Champion and Reserve Champion have their photo taken with the exhibitor who raised it and the animal. They also received Buyer Champion belt buckles.

        I didn’t buy anything at the auction this time, but I’ll be better prepared for a future sale. Blankets, cushions (those bleacher seats are hard!), and a buyers group to split an animal next time, and I’ll work on cleaning out my freezer.

        Healdsburg Future Farmers Country Fair and auction photos -

        9 Replies
        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Presumably at over $100 a piece those bunnies are going to be used for breeding, not eating!

          As an omnivore, I'm happy that other people can raise animals for food. I think if I had to eat something I'd raised, I'd be a vegetarian (hypocritical, I know).

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            I don't know. I was a pesco-vegetarian for almost a year, eating only what I would personally kill ... I used to catch fish as a kid, so no problem there. When Thanksgiving rolled around, I decided if I really needed to, I could wrestle a turkey to the ground and dispatch it.

            I wonder what the poultry prices are. I could see getting a chicken or two if the price wasn't as high as rabbits.

            Thanks for the great report, Melanie

            1. re: rworange

              I'm sure if I'd grown up with it, lived on a farm, killed and cleaned fish, etc., I could do it. But heck, I couldn't even finish off the rat my dog half-killed the other day. I look into its eyes and can't do it. Once it's dead, no problem. But I hate seeing something die.

              But back on topic, I hope we can get a report some day on the quality of the meat. I've been getting lamb from a local CSA, and it's by far the best lamb I've ever eaten, even though it's been frozen. My friends I get the lamb with are looking into getting a pig, too.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Big John's market in Healdsburg and Woodlands Markets bought animals at the auction. Might be worth checking with them to see if they keep the meat separate from their usual stock.

            2. re: Ruth Lafler

              The terms of sale say that all animals will be "processed", presumably that's a euphemism for slaughtered.

              At a dinner party last weekend, I talked about the auction, and one of my friends shared her experience raising a lamb as a 4-Her. She said she bawled her eyes out in the ring, and one of her dad's friends ended up buying "Bobo". His kids kept it as a pet, clipping it like a poodle, and apparently Bobo died of old age.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                The prices at the 4-H county fair here are typically far higher than standard stock prices. The idea is that stores and other businesses support 4-H and gain some advertising. The blue ribbon animals are often specially packaged and marked "Blue Ribbon" at the store that wins the bid.
                This is usually not very cost effective for an average buyer. Here once you bid you are responsible for transportation from the fair to the slaughter house. If you do bid make sure you have negotiated transportation with the seller in advance and that you know exactly which FDA processing plant you want your stock transferred to. It sounds like the autcion you went to had those details
                pre-arranged. Did the bid prices include the processing and wrapping?
                Typically the auctions here are at the beginning of the fair so the winner of the auction gets to display their advertising over the animal for the rest of the fair.
                It's a lot of fun to go to the auction.
                There's nothing like a good county fair!

                1. re: Fritter

                  Here's the auction term sheet with processing costs for slaughter, cut and wrap that are added to the final invoice.

                2. re: Melanie Wong

                  A good friend living up in the N. CA gold country raised a calf at one point with three children at home. He named the calf "Hamburger" so there were no illusions. I'll have to check back and see if any trauma developed.

                  1. re: PolarBear

                    Gotta love the name, "Hamburger". The friend who raised Bobo said that she's loving the hamburger from the steer in the freezer now that she split with her in-laws.

            3. Here's my post on the meats from the auction available at Big John's market in Healdsburg.