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Large Animal Auction
Ayana Solano, a Calexico FFA student, with Buddy, her Reserve Grand Champion Holstein, at the Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta in Imperial on March 7. | William Roller photo

Wallets Out: Big Bucks Exchanged at Large Animal Auction

IMPERIAL VALLEY — Although adults have a firm hand on the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta animal auctions, most will admit the endeavor is all about the students who diligently work and plough much of their own funds into their animal projects.

A Calexico High School senior, Ayana Solano, tried a steer after raising a goat last year but it turned out to be a fateful choice as entry, Buddy, won Reserve Grand Champion Holstein at the Showmanship and Market event on Feb. 29. Preparing for the large animal auction March 7, Ayana shared her insights.

“At the beginning he was hyper and wanted to run all the time,” she recalled. “And my mom didn’t want me to get him because he was one of the smallest (long legs yet light) and one of his horns was bleeding.”

But Buddy stood out from the herd because he had the courage to approach her, Ayana noted, explaining, “Most of all it was his friendliness because I worried if he’d try to kick me.”

To prepare Buddy for a potential award blanket, Ayana started off with a towel draped across his back. But he did not like it at all and squirmed until it shed from his back. But Ayana, not to be discouraged, would pet him and if he tolerated the towel, reward Buddy with a sugar cube. It was a matter of time until he took to a blanket.

Steer Whisperer

“I literally had to earn his trust,” she said. “He was also scared of a bucket. It was weird and I don’t understand it. But I’d walk ahead of him with the bucket and then have him walk around it when it was on the ground and he accepted it (along with more sugar cube treats).”

Buddy was just 837 pounds when Ayana purchased him for $786 last fall. But at the auction weighed in at 1,475 pounds. Ayana earned three dollars a pound and had no reason to wonder “where’s the beef.”

But the big Kahuna for the beef category was Brawley FFA’s John Cummings, whose Supreme Champion Market Steer earned $14 per pound for his 1,335 pounds.

Just as regal was El Centro FFA’s Connor Watson, a sophomore at Southwest High School. His crossbreed pig, Gunnar, weighed in at 267 pounds and was named Supreme Champion.

“It’s crazy. He’s kind of stubborn and won’t keep his head up when walking but he got there eventually,” said Connor. “I look forward to next year to raise another pig. And the FFA is great. The kids in it are all friendly and it’s like a support system.”

Calexico FFA member, Carlos Gomez, a senior, earned $5 per pound with his pig, Sleepy.

“It’s the first year I raised a pig,” admitted Gomez. “I wanted to try it. It’s something new. Sleepy was cooperative until she got tired and then got stubborn. She lives up to her name and enjoys her rest. I feel FFA is a good activity for everyone. You can always take something (away) from the experience. It makes a person better.”

Bonus Sustains Students

At tables behind the arena grandstand many adults consulted the catalogue for a roster of students to benefit from add-on donations. Gina Walker, an office manager for Farm Aviation, Inc. in Brawley, said she was planning to bid for the George E. Morris Foundation, named after the late operations manager of Farm Aviation and son of George B. Morris.

George E. tragically perished in a plane crash in October. Proceeds will support auction exhibitors and a college scholarship as well, explained Walker.

“We’re going to buy two lambs from those who don’t have add-on connections,” said Walker. “Then, as years go on, we’ll work toward doing more. When George E. Morris got into Farm Aviation’s aerial applications he wanted to help kids who didn’t have the means to line up buyers yet worked hard at raising animals.”

She added, George E. wanted to do some of the things George B. Morris did because they were so close.

“I just wanted to carry on George E.’s legacy,” said Walker. “George E. hired me just before his accident.”

Keeping the auction moving like palm oil was Paul Cooper, a veteran auctioneer for 45 years. His bottom-line function, he explained, was to put a buyer with a seller and determine a price.

“The free market is the ultimate judge,” said Cooper. “Animals are judged for their marketability and quality a particular animal carries.”

Cooper works as the manager for Helena Chemical at its Blythe store and donates his time for several auctions per year. “If there’s anybody who has more fun at an auction, I’d like to meet him because I have a lot of fun up there on the auction block,” he said.

This story is featured in the Mar 12, 2020 e-Edition.

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