TURLOCK — Emily Kosky said her final goodbye Saturday morning, stroking the neck of her Boer goat as it gobbled up a breakfast of protein-fortified pellets and alfalfa.
"This is one of the most difficult days for me. He is heading to auction, and I know he's probably going to end up on someone's table," said Kosky, a member of Turlock Hoof N Horns 4-H. "I've spent a lot of time with Hobby, but I know that I can't get too attached."
While Hobby is destined to produce a fine assortment of edible treats, including juicy loin chops and thick chunks of meat for stew, the 95-pound wether (farm slang for being neutered) is going out a winner.
He was judged the supreme champion goat at this year's Stanislaus County Fair, a feat that drew a steady line of admirers to his pen before the start of the livestock auction.
It was a morning of mixed emotions for Emily, as well as hundreds of other FFA and 4-H members who brought animals to the fair.
"It's exciting to have the supreme champion; it's the first time I've done that," the Hickman seventh-grader said. "I've got other goats at home, but Hobby has become a friend."
There were plenty of sentimental farewells as youngsters and youths from 8 to 20 took their animals to the auction ring to be sold.
It's an annual rite of summer, showing animals at the fair and selling them, finalizing a business transaction.
"You have to remember it's a business," said Austin Day, a Pitman FFA member whose crossbred steer was the fair's supreme grand champion. "I think everyone out here gets attached to their animal, but this also is about teaching us how to make good decisions."
The students keep financial records, accounting for feed and other expenses, but few of them will earn a sizable profit for the months of work they have invested.
The champions are typically the exception to that rule.
Modesto FFA member Brad Mendes, for example, got $20 a pound for his 274-pound supreme champion hog. He will use that $5,480 for college and perhaps to buy a few hogs.
"I think the judges saw that he didn't have any holes. He met or exceeded the standard in every area," said Mendes, who graduated Modesto High in 2008 but has spent this past year serving as an FFA state officer. "He's not too heavy, so he isn't carrying his stomach low, yet he has good weight."
Making an investment
Modesto dentist Bruce Valentine wasn't analyzing the structure of the hindquarters or color when he bid on Mendes' prize porker, he was making an investment.
"Sure, I could go to the store and buy bacon or chops for a lot less, but I come to the fair because the kids put so much effort into it," said Valentine, the Mendes' family dentist for 30 years. "When I had the kids at home, we'd buy a side of beef, but with just my wife and I, we don't eat as much."
Valentine was part of a syndicate that bought Mendes' Hampshire-Yorkshire cross.
"I see our purchase as an investment," he said. "We hear so much about the bad things kids are doing, but here are a group of kids doing it right."
While Mendes had his syndicate in place before the fair, others were scrambling in an attempt to get a higher price.
The auction program listed market prices for goats (90 cents a pound), lambs (90 cents), beef (75 cents) and hogs (42 cents), but they won't cover the cost of raising and nurturing an animal.
That's why youths ask family, friends and business owners to bid on an animal or create a partnership to buy it.
Day, who will be a freshman at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, this fall, had buyers lined up before the fair.
When his 1,260-pound steer left the judging ring with a bouquet of flowers and wearing the supreme champion blanket, however, Day knew he could fetch a higher price.
"Supreme champions generate a lot of interest, so I hit the street last week to make sure I had a large enough group of buyers to get that price," said Day, whose brother Mitchell is in the Denair FFA and had the FFA reserve champion steer. "I've got seven breeding cattle at home, so this makes me feel good about the way I raise them."
Austin Day's steer — a blend of Hereford, Simmental, Maine Anjou and other breeds — sold for $5 a pound, or $6,300. His brother's reserve champion got $4 a pound, or $5,164.
Some farm kids breed livestock to create their entry for the fair. Others will spend a couple of hundred dollars or more to buy from breeders.
Oakdale's Makayla Spaman got her Hampshire-Suffolk wether from local breeders John and Carol Nicewonger.
There was little difference between her lamb and dozens of others that were for sale.
It was her work the past seven months that turned it into the fair's supreme champion.
"I took him to a few jackpot (shows) before the fair and he did well," Spaman said. "It also gave me a chance to see how we compared to other sheep.
"He has great structure, he has a great walk and he's also attractive, but I've spent a lot of time to get him into shape. This is my eighth year at the fair, so I've shown a lot of animals, but it's still tough when you see them the last time."
Bee staff writer Rich Estrada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.
Supreme champion: Emily Kosky (Turlock Hoof N Horns)
Reserve supreme champion: Addison Cook (Beyer FFA)
FFA reserve champion: Katelynn Breding (Davis)
4-H reserve champion: Haley Munns (Sierra)
Supreme champion: Austin Day (Pitman FFA)
Reserve grand champion: Alexius Watje (Einstein Acres 4-H)
FFA reserve grand champion: Mitchell Day (Denair)
4-H reserve grand champion: Traci Alves (Patterson)
Supreme champion: Brad Mendes (Modesto)
Reserve supreme champion: Aaron Kerlee (Turlock Hoof N Horns)
FFA reserve grand champion: Brent Taylor (Modesto)
4-H reserve grand champion: Kyle Kerlee (Turlock Hoof N Horns)
Duroc: Champion — Nicholas Azevedo (Modesto FFA)
Reserve champions — Rebecca Wilcher (Johansen FFA), Clay Verdegaal (Sierra 4-H)
Yorkshire: Champions — Noah Johnson (Community Cultivators 4-H), Amy Fontana (Central Valley FFA)
Reserve champions — Clarissa Zamora (Enochs FFA), Gracie Etcheverry (Waterford 4-H)
All other breeds: Champions — Morgan Anderson (Wood Colony 4-H), Giana Amador (Turlock FFA)
Crossbreed: Reserve champion — Carly Thomason (Valley Home 4-H)
Supreme champion: Makayla Spaman (Oakdale FFA)
Reserve supreme champion: Ryan McCoon (Modesto FFA)
4-H grand champion: Tanner Morgan (Sierra 4-H)
4-H reserve grand champion: Kyle Kerlee (Turlock Hoof N Horns)
Suffolk: Grand champions — Jessica Marquez (Delhi FFA), Justin Martin (Valley Home 4-H)
Reserve champions — Travis Lockhart (Patterson 4-H), Veronica Marquez (Delhi FFA)
Natural color: Champions — Bryce Gerhardt (Oakdale FFA), Jaycee Spence (Valley Home 4-H)
4-H reserve champion: Michaela Fisk (Vernalis)
4-H all other breeds champion (blackface): Garrett Martin (Valley Home 4-H)
FFA reserve champion (all other breeds): Brianna Sweet (Johansen)
4-H reserve champion (whiteface): Marissa Heredia (Chatom)
Supreme champion: Paige Tobler (Westport 4-H)
Reserve supreme champion: Kyle Weststeyn (Sacred Heart 4-H)
FFA grand champion: Sabrina Spiller (Pitman)
FFA reserve grand champion: Bastiaan Weststeyn (Ceres)
FFA grand champion: Carlee Sterling (Newman)
4-H grand champion: Paige Tobler (Westport)
FFA reserve champion: John Traini (Oakdale)
4-H reserve champion: Paige Tobler (Westport)
4-H grand champion: Jimmy Limbaugh (Wood Colony)
FFA grand champion: Angela Garcia (Johansen)
4-H reserve grand champion: Jimmy Limbaugh (Wood Colony)
FFA reserve grand champion: Christina Crum (Central Valley)
FAIR'S LAST DAY
It's Recycle Sunday at the Stanislaus County Fair as the fair wraps up its 10-day run. Bring six or more empty aluminum cans and receive $2 off one adult admission.
HIGHLIGHTS: Rainforest Adventure exhibit, noon to 11 p.m.; 4-H Farmyard Experience, noon to 10 p.m.; Small Animal Master Showmanship, 7 p.m.; Clean & Green Expo, noon to 11 p.m.
ARENA: Mud Bog, 7 p.m., $8 in addition to fair admission.
VARIETY FREE STAGE: Pablo Montero plus Noelia, 8:30 p.m.
CENTER STAGE: Los Amigos Band, 7 to 11 p.m.
COMMUNITY STAGE: Highway 99, 5:45 to 8:30 p.m.
CHARTER STAGE: Hypnotist Suzy Haner, 8:30 and 10 p.m.
HOURS: Gates open at noon; exhibit buildings close at 11 p.m.; carnival closes at 12:30 a.m.
PARK 'N' RIDE: 4:30 to 11 p.m.; park free and ride free from CSU, Stanislaus, (Crowell off Monte Vista) or Pitman High (Christoffersen Parkway). Shuttles run every 15-20 minutes.
WHERE: From Highway 99, exit at Fulkerth Road in Turlock and head east. For fairgrounds parking, turn right on Soderquist Road, or go past Soderquist for more parking; $4 per vehicle.
ADMISSION: $10 for adults ($2 off one adult admission with six or more empty aluminum cans), $3 for children ages 6 to 12 and free for 5 and younger.
INFORMATION: www.stancofair.com, 524-2660 or 668-1333