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State's generous nature thrives at livestock sale
JACKSON -- Economic woes cannot change what many Mississippians are deep down in their hearts -- generous.
The Feb. 5 Dixie National Sale of Junior Champions marked 40 years charitable buyers have stepped forward to bid on market animals raised by 4-H and FFA members from across the state. The event rewards youth for jobs well done and provides money for educational funds, future livestock projects or other needs.
“In about a two-hour period, buyers donated almost a quarter of a million dollars at this year's sale,” said Dean Jousan, Mississippi State University Extension 4-H livestock specialist. “The quality of the character of these youth inspires buyers to be generous every year, even when the economic outlook is not very strong.”
This year, 12 hogs, 12 lambs, nine goats and eight steers were auctioned off at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds. In addition to the market animals, donors contributed money to support 25 scholarships worth $1,200 each, five premier exhibitor scholarships worth $1,500 each and three supreme exhibitor scholarships worth $1,000 each.
Jousan said it is not unusual for buyers to donate the animals they purchase to other charitable causes, such as public food pantries, children's homes or youth programs. This year, one of the exhibitors showed his own form of generosity.
Wes Herrington of Laurel, 16, plans to donate the proceeds from one of his two steers in the sale to the medical costs of a friend injured in a recent car accident. Tellus Operating Group purchased his 1,203-pound steer for $13 per pound.
Herrington and his friend, Will Graves, are juniors at West Jones High School. They have hunted and played football together for years. On the last day of 2008, they had plans to work out together, but Graves never showed up. A one-car accident left him paralyzed, and he is now in a rehabilitation unit in Jackson.
“Livestock projects teach you to overcome obstacles and never give up. Our football motto is ‘No Quit In Me.' Will is not giving up, and we shouldn't either,” Herrington said. “4-H has taught me responsibility and the value of hard work, and now Will's accident is teaching me not to take life for granted.”
Herrington decided his course of action even before his steer qualified for the sale. After it placed high at the district show, he felt like his steer had a good chance of doing well at the Dixie National. Market animals must earn their way to the sale by being named champion or reserve champion in their breed categories or weight divisions. Herrington was right about his steer, which was named the champion English steer, the Mississippi-bred champion and the overall reserve grand champion steer.
“I felt good about contributing the earnings. I know Will would do the same for me,” he said.
Hinds County 4-H agent Lurlinda Soignier said the project animals are a “means to an end” to teach young people sportsmanship and responsibility. Her three children -- Robyn, Tyler and John Ryan -- also took part in the Dixie National and had animals qualify for the sale.
“These projects teach young people how to be future livestock producers. They learn things like how grain prices impact livestock as well as how to care for animals,” Soignier said. “They also make friends beyond their own county lines and have a lot of fun.”
In addition to having three lambs qualify for the sale, the older two Soignier children placed first in their showmanship classes.
“Winning showmanship is something the exhibitors must do based on their own merits. It is not about the quality of the animal or who the young person's parents are,” Soignier said. “The judge doesn't care about anything except how that person is showing the animal.”
Robyn Soignier said being the 4-H agent's daughter makes her feel like she should work harder.
“Qualifying for the sale shows how much work we put into our animals. We have had these lambs for almost a year, and we've been feeding, watering and exercising them regularly to get them ready for competition,” she said.
The 2009 sale brought in bids totaling $233,380 for 41 market animals. The highest per pound bids were $15 for a steer ($18,315), $43 for a lamb ($6,493), $26 for a hog ($7,202) and $52 for a goat ($4,171). The 33 scholarships totaled $40,500.