BUFFALO, Wyo. — Full from the buyer’s dinner and armed with bidder’s numbers, the crowd at the auction settled into the bleachers wrapped around the small sale pen.
Some wore masks and others cordoned themselves in the socially-distanced bidding area under a tent nearby. Still others made use of telephone bidding if they did not feel comfortable attending the staple event of the Johnson County Fair & Rodeo — the 75th annual livestock auction.
Livestock raisers with FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) and 4-H work for up to 10 months to get their animals ready for the show. Grueling work, feeding, training, cleaning and practicing all lead to one of the final events of the 10-day fair. Sheep must walk without a halter; a steer’s hair must be trained to stand up; pigs must learn to hold their heads up while walking as directed by their owner. For many kids, spending time with their animals and fair projects was the one remaining thing they could occupy themselves with at home during the pandemic.
“We needed to get some kind of normalcy,” Frank Sickler, vice chairman of the livestock committee, said. “These kids work hard, not just at the fair. They have lots of time and money wrapped up in this.”
Larry Brannian kicked off the auction as he has for the last 40 years. As an “essential business,” livestock auctions are exempt from state health orders and gathering limits. Having no active COVID-19 cases locally also helped. So the auction was held just as in years past. Surrounded by social-distancing signs and hand sanitizer dispensers on posts in every livestock barn, Brannian kicked off another warm August night by welcoming Kaitlyn Painter, 15, and her black, 2020 grand champion market steer into the ring.
Shouts from bid callers echoed under the roof as bidders pushed the price higher. Within minutes, Painter and her steer were sent out of the ring with the final “Sold!” An agricultural dealership, Heartland Kubota, won the bidding with a pledged $4,600 for the animal. A total of 162 animals were to be sold in this single night.