It may seem like a simple thing – a kid raises an animal, takes it to the fair, maybe wins a ribbon and gets a little bit of money at the auction for his or her efforts. But since 1968, the Southwest Washington Junior Livestock Sale Committee (SWJLSC), a 501(c)3 non-profit, has been helping Lewis County youth in 4-H and FFA learn valuable life skills with the help of an extremely supportive community.

The 2017 Junior Livestock Auction raised $265,000. This year’s auction raised over $300,000, a record, with the sale of 174 animals. “This was a record year and the community support was amazing,” says Brenda Balmelli, wife of Dave Balmelli who co-owns the Chehalis Livestock Market. This makes it one of the largest youth fundraisers in Lewis County.

“The amount of people who contributed and the extent that they contributed was just incredible,” adds Dr. Jason Humphrey, veterinarian at Cascade West Veterinary Hospital and a member of the sale committee. Humphrey focuses on large animal at the vet hospital and volunteers his time with the youth. “It’s pretty much a year-round commitment,” he says. “We take a short break after the sale and the start meeting backs up in the fall, before the kid’s get their projects the next spring.”

Teaching Life Lessons

Tanner Speck and his 2017 Grand Champion 4-H Market Steer purchased by Centralia OK Tire. Photo courtesy: Southwest Washington Junior Livestock Sale.

In order to participate, youth must be in 4-H or FFA, and sign an agreement with the SWJLSC, which states that they will follow the rules and that they are representing them. “Just like a real business, these kids sign an agreement with us,” says Humphrey. It’s just one of the life skills the kids develop during the year.

The youth start in March with steers and June for all other meat animals (goat, poultry, sheep, etc). Members of the committee help with the pre-weigh-ins of the animals at those times. The animals can’t be over a certain weight at the beginning. “From a committee standpoint, we are producing a product, more than 50 percent of them end up in the meat locker,” explains Humphrey. “So, we are teaching the youth about developing that product. There are certain things you have to do to do that correctly and we try to teach them standards that would be acceptable by that industry – whether its pork, lamb, beef, etc.”

“We encourage the kids to raise a quality animal, which in turn creates a quality product, and we teach them that correlation,” adds Balmelli. As part of this, the SWJLSC has several contests that reward the youth for raising their animal correctly, paying attention to standards including muscle to fat ratio and rate of weight gain. At the fair, Humphrey uses an ultrasound machine with the steers, sheep and pigs to check amount of back fat, size of ribcage, and for beef, muscle marbling – all things that affect the quality of the end product and how much meat an animal will yield. The fair judges are then given this data, which is sometimes used during judging.

The kids work hard most of the year on their projects. Photo courtesy: Southwest Washington Junior Livestock Sale.

“It’s not like we are trying to raise more farmers,” explains Humphrey, “it’s a really good vehicle to teach life skills – there’s responsibility to take care of the animal, economic lessons including keeping track of costs and what your income is, marketing yourself, life and death lessons and learning how to cope when things don’t go right. Sometimes the animals don’t make weight, or they get a white ribbon. It gives kids tools to deal with success and failure and makes them good citizens. That’s really our goal.”

In addition to animal husbandry, the SWJLSC works within the 4-H and FFA missions to teach youth about marketing their product. New members attend a mandatory meeting ran by the Committee that goes through rules and helps teach the youth how to successfully market themselves.  This includes crafting letters that introduces themselves and their project, and asks people to attend the auction and bid on their animal. Youth also visit local businesses, asking them to come to the auction and support.

“It’s heartwarming when the kids come in,” says Balmelli. “I had some kids come in that we donated to for their steers, and they came in personally all dressed like little old-fashioned farmers, in their button-up shirts and belt buckles they had won, and thanked us for the donation. You make a point to always donate to those same kids because they come in and really make the effort.”

Community Makes it Possible

Each year, many local businesses step up and support local youth through the auction. Pictured here is Alli Engle with her pen of 2017 Grand Champion 4-H Market Rabbits and Matt Braaten from Freightliner Northwest who purchased them. Photo courtesy: Southwest Washington Junior Livestock Sale.

All the preparation in the world would not make a difference without a supportive community. It starts with the 11-member, all volunteer the Southwest Washington Junior Livestock Sale Committee and the host of other volunteers that donate their time to help teach the youth and run the auction. Even the auctioneer donates his time the day of the sale.

Then there are those that buy. There would be no sale without buyers and our community steps up more and more each year, both individuals and local businesses. Many businesses purchase several animals, for example Cascade West Veterinary Hospital purchased two steers, five pigs and one lamb at this year’s auction. Many of the businesses distribute the meat to their employees, or sell the animal to the Chehalis Livestock Market to be resold at their auction.

Monies raised goes directly to the kids, with a percentage going to the Southwest Washington Junior Livestock Sale committee. The non-profit uses their funds to advertise for the sales, buys fair tickets for the youth, parking passes to the fair, a treasurer who handles accounting and taxes, and one to three scholarships each year.

The future will certainly be bright with the kids the Southwest Washington Junior Livestock Sale Committee, and our entire community, are helping raise.

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