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Many hands help in fair’s growing livestock auction

Sold!: Brent Ochesky, of Hood River, spots a bidder during the fair’s 4-H and FFA market animal auction on Friday.

Photo by Ben Mitchell.
Sold!: Brent Ochesky, of Hood River, spots a bidder during the fair’s 4-H and FFA market animal auction on Friday.

The annual 4-H and FFA market animal auction at the Hood River County Fair is always a hit and the event is getting bigger and better ever year.

According to Bryan Bozarth, who works as an agriculture instructor at Hood River Valley High School and just finished up his third year as auction chairman, this year’s auction had well over a dozen more lots up for sale compared to the previous year.

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Hannah McNerney, 13, of Parkdale, tugs on her 7-month-old Boer goat, Percy, during the 4-H and FFA market animal auction Friday at the fair. Auctioneer Marty Campbell, of Pendleton, is in the background, working the crowd.

“It went great,” he said of the auction Monday morning. “Last year, we made a record sale of $130,000 or so and this year we made about $20,000 more than that.”

Due to its ever-increasing popularity, this year’s auction started up an hour earlier than in past years and moved at a faster pace, according to Bozarth, to help expedite an event that typically lasts several hours. Also due to the growing participation rate, students will only be able to show two animals at the auction next year instead of three, which Bozarth noted was more in line with other fairs.

“Hood River County is the only auction in all of Oregon that allows kids to show three animals,” he said.

To help with the rising tide of animals, Bozarth estimated about 40 people helped out on putting the auction together this year, with 10-15 people working during the actual event, which was held Friday afternoon and evening.

For those who haven’t been to the fair auction before, it may seem chaotic at first, thanks in part to the occasionally unruly animals that care not one whit to be the center of everyone’s attention. Dozens of kids nervously wait in the wings with their goats, sheep, rabbits and other animals as they are called up, one by one, to the center of the dusty stage. The kids parade their animals around, smiling at the crowd as the auctioneers try and drum up some business. Callers peer into the crowd, looking for prospective buyers, pouncing on any sudden hand movements with a cry of “aaaaaayyyyy!”

Though it’s a big responsibility, Brent Ochesky, who lives in Hood River and has been a caller for two years at the fair, absolutely loves his role.

“It’s a blast,” he said while catching his breath between lots at the auction. “I love it. It helps the kids and it’s super fun.”

At the center of the action is auctioneer Marty Campbell of Pendleton, who was the auctioneer for the county fair for the first time last year. Like Ochesky, he loves what he does.

“I like being in front of the crowd,” he said, while fellow auctioneer and friend Nick Nelson, also of Pendleton, took over for him during the auction. “You gotta like the sound of your own voice. I love ag and I love people. This is a pretty good mix of it, too.”

Campbell, who serves as an announcer for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and is also a leadership director for FFA, said it’s always good to work in pairs. The two make a good team, because after too much calling, Campbell said his lips go numb, while Nelson, who also works as an animal science instructor at Blue Mountain Community College, grows hoarse.

No matter what happens though, Campbell said it’s important to develop and sustain a rhythm or a “hum” in your voice when calling an auction.

“The hum is everything,” he noted. “If you quit humming, it doesn’t sound good.”

Behind the scenes are people like Cascade Locks couple Anne and Randy Holmstrom, who make sure some of the younger 4-H kids know where they’re going. Randy also helps hogs find their way at the fair by shooing them with planks of wood.

“It gets really crazy,” he said with a smile. “They’re not leashed animals.”

The husband and wife team, who both graduated from Hood River Valley High School in 1974, said they got their start at 4-H many years ago, as did their three children, who have now all graduated high school.

“I’ve been involved in it my whole life,” Anne said of 4-H. “My father was the county extension agent, so that’s how I started out.”

She said her favorite part of the fair was “working with the kids and seeing their accomplishments.”

The kids had a good year this year, with rising market values equating to better prices for the animals. One 4-Her, 13-year-old Hannah McNerney, of Parkdale, was surprised at the high price fetched by her 7-month-old Boer goat, Percy.

“I thought it would go for three- (hundred) or four- (hundred) something and it went for $575,” she said.

McNerney said she had been raising Percy since the beginning of spring, which hasn’t always been easy.

“Feeding him was easy, but walking and training it was hard,” she said. “He would get stubborn. He would eat the grass and run sometimes instead of walk.”

Come Sunday, McNerney would have to give away Percy to her buyer, and though she’s fond of the goat, she’s used to having to part ways with her animals.

“I’ve done this a bunch of times before,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard, though.”

Despite all the efforts people have made toward creating a successful auction, Bozarth said it couldn’t happen without the buyers, many of whom are community businesses that pay top dollar in order to help out the kids.

“Without that, there wouldn’t be much money to go around,” he said.

Anne Holmstrom agreed.

“A lot of the kids use the money for college,” she explained. “There’s great support from the community.”

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Hood River County Fair results start in today’s paper on page B7.

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