Paying $60 a Pound for a 4-H Calf Doesn't Teach a Kid A Darn Thing

It’s been just over 20 years since I showed my last 4-H calf at the Lethbridge Northen 4-H show and sale, as part of the Turin beef club. We struggled for years to keep that club going, but we did. It was a very important part of our upbringing. The excitement that surrounded achievement day was awesome. How did everyone’s animal do this year? Who was going to win rate-of-gain? Which club was going to win the cleanest stall award? Who was getting showman award? (I never had to worry about that one, I was just happy to get that stupid calf there). Or — the big one — who was going to get grand champion.

Man, if you were able to get grand champion, you hit the jackpot. Chances were you would get a whopping $2/lb for that animal. It was always a great time and real social event in the community.

Fast forward 20 years and I am back in 4-H. This time as a parent. My kids love it. There is no other program in agriculture that teaches some of the real lifeskills that kids can take with them into adulthood. Public speaking, community service, hard work — the list goes on. That being said, what happened in St. Paul at the beef achievement day this week disappoints me. Actually, it disgusts me.

What happened? A 4-H calf sold for $82,000 — that’s $60 a pound. Eighty-two THOUSAND dollars.

I did a little research to see what the average Canadian person’s salary is in one year. The mean salary is $27,600. The top 10% of Canadians make $80,400. Someone in St.Paul just paid a 10 year old kid $82,000 for an animal that has a market value of $2200. Wow.

I would like to know, at what point does anyone think that paying $60/lb for a calf seems like a good idea? What were the two bidding parties trying to accomplish? I have never found any 4-H literature that has said “To Get Rich by Doing”.

I have absolutely no issue with people over-paying for 4H animals. It has always happened. The kids sort of expect it — I know I did — as a reward for hard work. Sometimes an animal brings double what its worth. That stuff happens. I bought my brothers and sister a trampoline when I was 10 with my first 4-H cheque. I get that. There are business connections and friends that often get involved; some animals are just going to bring more money than others. I’m not looking at this with blinders on.

But what are we teaching these kids by handing over that kind of money to them in a public spectacle? A few of the arguments I have seen on social media have been in favor of this behavior. Statements like, “Well if anyone deserves that, it’s a 4-H Kid!”

Really? Really?! What about the other 50 kids that were showing at that sale? Or the 1000s of other kids across Canada that do the same project? Not sure how many of them got their university tuition paid for at 10 years old.

Or, “They all knew each other and it was a behind the scene business deal.”

Once again, really?! Why on earth are we using 10-year-olds as pawns in business deals at events that have other kids just going in trying to do their best at a project that they have worked on all year. Why not just hand a check to him over a meal at a swanky restaurant?

As a parent, if I had been a first-hand observer to what happened as a participant in the achievement day, I would be doing some long, hard thinking as to whether or not I would need to part of that group going forward. Had the animal been a charity calf, I would have no issues with this at all —that is what 4-H is all about.

I should hope that there are people in the upper ranks of 4-H that have caught wind of what happened here. If people want to spend that kind of money, I guess that is up to them, but I have seen suggestions as to how much a kid should be allowed to keep and the rest goes to scholarships for 4-H of some sort. But, in my mind, this is nothing but a black eye on the 4-H achievement day.

23 thoughts on “Paying $60 a Pound for a 4-H Calf Doesn’t Teach a Kid A Darn Thing

  1. Our district did a carcass project this year. Turns out #1 in the ring was #3 under the knife. Judging by looks is silly. Top rate of gain is the best calf at the show. If we really wanted to teach kids something, maybe we should let them lose money in the bad years

  2. While I agree that judging by looks will not find the ‘best’ steer, neither does judging by rate of gain. All that shows is the animal that gains the most, which doesn’t tell us anything about carcass quality or feed efficiency. If you want to go down that road then the steers should be harvested before the achievement day so all those attributes can be shown.

    I do agree with Kevin on this. If it turns out that this is a backdoor deal like it has been suggested everyone involved should be ashamed. It teaches the kid nothing at all. Paying a premium for the champion is usually a given, this is exorbitant.

  3. Though I agree with most of the points I don’t want readers to lose sight of all the good things 4-H members do. Our club averaged $2.55/lb and through the years if we had paid ourselves anything at all for the time put into the projects, financially we would have never allowed our kids to be part of the program. It is so much more and if you were at our achievement this year you would quickly learn that . 5 years ago a member was diagnosed with a rare condition and required surgery out of province . The club raised money at our achievement to help with travel costs. This year she had a relapse and was unable to participate. The kids made sure her steer was there, groomed, shown and sold. Our member explained it best, she said 4 H is so much more than a club, it is a family. Our club celebrated our 59th show and sale this year and very proud of it.

  4. I was just told by a friend who attended this acheivement day that the proceeds were going to be donated to Haying in the 30s.

    1. I just read the Western Producer article, they claimed the calf was to be donated to Haying in the 30’s, though I have no way of qualifying that claim. The calf and the $80 thousand dollar windfalll could be two very different things….

  5. There are a few things in your blog here that I’d like to address. First of all in Alberta the average salary is not $2300/ month or $27,600/ year. And if your in that tax bracket you are not buying 4H steers period. Secondly I was at the sale. I know many of the kids that entered their animals including the girl (and family) you are speaking of. Do I agree that it teaches the girl nothing…probably. But allegations by people who have absolutely know clue that this was a inside business deal and all sorts of other stuff is ridiculous. I talked to the family immediately after the sale and in the days after even a hour ago. They did not expect this or ask for it. A few people with too much money got in a bidding war. I personally got caught up in it and bid the steer up to $10/lb. $13770.00. A little high perhaps but it was fun. the man I was sitting with went to $40/lb. And the guy that lost at $59/lb was down from us. After the sale we all went for a ceaser at the pub and talked about the craziness. Were any of us in a business deal with the family? NO. were we bidding for fun and against each other because we were caught up in the moment? perhaps. And all the crap that has been said by people like yourself should stop. Do I ask how you got to where you are without knowing you or having a clue who you are? no I don’t. I could easily say you wouldn’t be anywhere if your father didn’t bankroll your entire set up. Do I no this to be true? no but I could look that way to me. What things look like and what they are or are not is the point I’m trying to make here. I may agree with you on a few things but lets get one thing straight accusing people of inside business deals that are absolutely untrue is very unprofessional and wrong. Have you spoken with the family and asked where the money will go? I don’t think so. maybe that would be a start, get some facts before running your mouth. Opinions are like assholes everybody has one you don’t need to prove you do or you are.

    Les Lambert

    1. “A few of the arguments I have seen on social media … “Well if anyone deserves that, it’s a 4-H Kid!” … Or, “They all knew each other and it was a behind the scene business deal.” ”

      Mr Lambert, you are showing yourself to be the asshole, Kevin did nothing unprofessional. This ‘opinion’ article is certainly dripping with the authors opinions, and a few misrepresented facts ($27000 does not represent the average salary in Alberta, and is defiantly not the salary of someone interested in buying a 4-H calf in St. Paul) but none of the authors words are untrue. He does not claim to know how or why this happened, he acknowledges what some of the speculation could be but does not go so far as to field an opinion himself, beyond “… this is nothing but a black eye on the 4-H achievement day.”

    2. I totally agree with your statement. I was not there but to me this article is missing a lot of facts and unfortunaly that is what the media including social media does. The arguement that what about the other kids in the club, to me this is what is wrong with society. Be happy that another person is excelling and quit all the whining. Good for that family. All my kids are in 4 H and the morals and values they learn far out way the false perception of overpriced calves.

    3. Did you bid up any other steers to $10.00 per pound?…….if this is all in good fun how come there were no calves sold for saaaaay $40.00 per pound? Why this little girl? Why this particular calf?

    4. Thanks for the response Les. I am happy that you clarified that there was no business or politics involved in this sale. It’s too bad that the fun of the sale ran out after that one animal because there were obviously people, including yourself that were willing to pay $13,700 , $52,000 , and just over $80,000 in attendance as well. As for our our family farming operation, feel free to view our website . It will give you all the information that you would like to know about our history and operation.

  6. Excellent point of view expressed perfectly. I feel for the other members at that show and sale- by placing an unrealistic value on the one calf, these adults have devalued all the other members calves and efforts- however unintentionally . Just what 4-H is not about.

  7. Well said Kevin – it is ludicrous to have one child benefit because they knew someone willing to take the tax benefit of the donation – it would be better to have prize money donations for placings in the classes than an outrageous sum for the Grand or Reserve animals.

  8. So I completely agree that the money spent on this steer is insane! But what gives people the right to tell this kid what he has to do with the money,(that he fair and square earned) It is not the kids fault that this amount of money was spent on his steer. I agree this probably doesn’t teach kids much but if someone wants to spend that money well then he shall and the kid just happens to be the lucky winner of the lottery that day! I bet if your kid got that much for their steer you probably wouldn’t be complaining for one second! Nobody knows this kids real story so who are we to judge if he deserves it or not? Congrats to the young man on making a heck of a sale and I hope you find a good use for the money!

    1. “Fair and square EARNED???”

      This is the equivalent of a lottery win, it was not ‘earned’ in the practical sense of the word. I love a good auction, have even been known to get into a bidding war from time to time, but as a bidder at a 4-H auction I feel like you have a social obligation to keep things under control for the sake of the kids. I don’t know what I would do if this had been my daughter, truthfully, I’m grateful that I’m not in that situation.

      When I first heard this story, I thought that the buyer must have made a mistake and thought he was bidding on the charity calf.

  9. It is what it is. Our daughter and now our grandchildren are in 4-H. Every 4-H kid knows on show day it is the judge and the buyers for that day – how their animals rate at the show and what they get for their animals at the sale are the luck of the draw for THAT day. I have seen several times when a “regular” calf will bring more than the Grand Champion. What this teaches the kids is that ANYTHING can happen to ANYBODY – even them. Do your best and you never know! It is true that the price paid is outrageous, but that is the business of the fellow that purchased it, and some of the people complaining might not be complaining so loud if it was their kid that was the “lucky” one, so encourage the rest to be happy for the kid who hit the jackpot. It is what it is. Carrying on about it changes nothing. It is what it is.

  10. I agree with Kevin, but I certainly appreciate getting a viewpoint from a bidder’s perspective. Nice to see how the other half lives.

  11. Thank you Kevin for a informative article. I blame the bidders +/or whoever orchestrated this sale! An embarrassment to the 4-H program.

  12. As we all know auctions bring a lot of excitement for the consigners and the buyers and the outcome is not predictable. It would be nice if all things could be fair and equal but that is not the nature of auctions. As a member/leader/parent of 4-H, I see how we struggle to keep 4-H afloat as membership dwindles and leaders are harder to come by especially when trying to start a new project. So much of my time is spent educating non 4-H people about what we do and what makes 4-H so much more special than many other choices available to youth. I am frustrated by the negativity around this topic. We need to be happy for those involved and remember what example we are setting for the onlookers including our young people. One day the windfall may be theirs (or our children’s). Do we want them to feel joy and relief for what this could do to their life or should they feel embarrassment and shame for the results of their hard work and good marketing skills? Don’t do any more damage to 4-H! It just makes more work for the rest of us.

    1. Alexa, I would be very interested to see what kind of “… good marketing skills” this 10 year old utilized … she should go on a speaking tour for the summer!

  13. Since there were no other calves sold even close to to that amount…………the whole thing stinks of a backroom deal. When I was in 4H the “regular calves” got 15 to 25 cents above market price and the Grand Champion got 50 to 75 cents above market. We all made a little money and were rewarded for our hard work. I did find it interesting that the highest price i ever received was $1.13/lb and a local machinery dealership was the winning bid. I guess the new tractor and baler that dad had purchased that year paid off!

  14. I am very dissappointef to hear the negative comments . I am a mom that has two girls in this club … My youngest selling just a few calves prior and my oldest selling second last!!! My girls were thrilled and so happy for their fellow member!!! Maybe you adults should step back and take a lesson or two from kids….some of u believe this teaches them nothing … Your wrong …, for one thing it teaches kids not to be jealous at what they didn’t get but what they got. My girls and I appreciate each and every buyer and person that supports the amazing 4-H program. Hats off to ALL buyers . And let’s celebrate this amazing story not dissect it … We may never see this again but we witnessed it first hand and I know my kids were smiling ear to ear for their fellow 4-H friend !!!! Be kind adults …. This is just a member that did what all other members are suppose to do… Go invite buyers to their 4-H achievement day and sale !!!!

  15. I think this article is ridiculous. I grew up in Alberta and was extremely involved in 4-H all the way through club, district, regional and provincial levels eventually having the honor of serving as a 4-H Ambassador. I loved 4-H. The things I learned in 4-H shaped me and taught me the life skills that have led to many opportunities and successes through college and now my adult life. However, there was certainly another side of 4-H. All the parents and leaders that wanted everything “fair.” The real world isn’t fair and 4-H prepared me for that. My sister and I were very lucky to have many grand champion steers. Some years they sold for top dollar, some years our grand champion steer didn’t because another member maybe worked harder on their pre-sale marketing or maybe just got lucky. I will tell you what, 4-H wasn’t fair it made me work that much harder.

    Congratulations to this young person on their success. Maybe they worked harder than all the other members and maybe they didn’t but that is not for anyone to judge. Secondly, congratulations to the buyers and bidders for getting involved with the 4-H program. Go ahead and criticize them for spending this kind of money and watch other businesses and people take their money to other organizations. Why should they put up with this criticism.

  16. I was in 4-H for 8 years, never did want to even sell a calf , wanted to keep all the time lol , when it came to sell we worked our butts off to make that calf look like a million bucks, n sell for a good price, even if it hurt to see him go. wth is with this bidding war , unacceptable they never should have allowed that to even happen, so what now kids are going to expect it , what is this world coming to , seriously ppl pull ur head out n smell the rain , its not about the money, i hope to god that’s not what they are teaching 4-H members now , because remember its “LEARN TO DO BY DOING” don’t lose that all by one calf been sold for a ridiculous amount, remember why ur in 4-H!!!! I am absolutely appalled by this news.

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