Most years, the livestock auction at the Coconino County Fair is marked by the fast-talking auctioneer and the hum of the crowd as they examine the animals and make their bids.
But last week, the annual auction and show looked very different. Families and bidders crowded around computer screens across the county, and in some instances across the world, to tune into a socially distanced event and silent auction.
With the entire Coconino County Fair transitioning online because of COVID-19, it was natural that the livestock auction and show, where members of the 4-H club from across the county come to show off and sell their animals and hard work, would be moved online as well, said Northern Arizona Junior Livestock Association President Sherri Brendel.
The show, which streamed online on Sept. 1, had video clips of the children and young adults presenting their animals, parading them around backyards, driveways and corrals -- all the while commentated on by panelists from Walton, Indiana.
Parents and siblings filmed the videos days beforehand so they could be sent to judges and then put together for bidders.
“Everybody putting so much time and effort into just making it the best possible for the kids even though this year is so different because of COVID. But everything turned out awesome,” said 15-year-old Ivy Jirsa.
After five years of raising rabbits, Jirsa, who is a member of the Cataract 4-H Club, raised and showed a steer this year, winning the grand prize for market steer.
“I was not expecting that at all,” she said. “Of course, I really wanted to do well, but I wasn't expecting to get the grand prize.”
Although Jirsa said she missed being able to attend the event in person, making a video to show her steer at home did have benefits. For instance, she could plan out the video and focus on only showing her animal without the hustle and bustle that is the fair.
Christy Bennett, who has been involved in 4-H for 30 years and ran the club in Page this year, said she did her best to make the experience for her members as close to the normal fair as possible.
The Page 4-H club was new this year after a short hiatus, and Bennett said this was likewise the first year for many of the kids in the club. So when the news came that it would be up to the kids, most of them 9 or 10 years old, and their families to put together a video and show off their animals, Bennett said she knew she would need to provide help to everyone.
So Bennett said she erected a little show ring for the kids and their animals and one-by-one helped video each animal.
“Well, this took over two weeks to accomplish. Wow. You know, with our heat up here, it was terrible,” Bennett said. “We had show rings and we had everything, trying to make it like it would be if it was at the fair.”
As the pandemic worsened over the preceding months, Brendel said, she spoke with several parents whose children were raising steers or hogs and who worried what would happen if the auction was canceled.
Would they be left with the animals they had already spent so much money raising?
But in the end, although they had to run the auction very differently than previous years, Brendel said it turned out to be very successful. In fact, Brendel added that they may have had more buyers this year than normal.
The online silent auction allowed some people who have never been able to travel to Flagstaff for the fair to bid, Brendel said.
A group of school teachers in Page, for example, who had never taken part in the auction bid on and won a hog between all of them this year, Brendel said.
“But that’s not something they have ever been able to do and they were able to support their students who were taking part in 4-H,” Brendel said. “They were thrilled. They were able to participate and they actually won a hog. So they're so excited for that to put in their freezer.”
She said they even had buyers from outside the United States, although some of them ran into issues trying to make bids from across international borders. She said they had at least one buyer, a grandparent from New Zeland who wanted to increase the dollar amount for their grandchild’s animal, tune in, and also knew of another bidder who tuned in from Italy.
And the silent auction was exciting in its own way as well, Bennett said.
“Because it was a three-day auction, and it's kind of like eBay; you wait,” Bennett said. “So you wait till the last minute so that you can get a good price, you know? Well, it was a bidding frenzy right at the last hour. And that's when the kids actually start seeing their numbers go up. It was it was fun to watch.”
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