Bidding Buffoons: Fumbling at the 2018 4-H Livestock Auction
By: Tim Bean
Ever notice how pig manure is sharper than other animals? Cow and horse manure smells flat. Chicken poop has that overwhelming ammonia smell, but doesn’t travel as far. Pig manure wafts for miles and really digs into your nose with meaty hooks. Just saying…
For a good cause, Nick and I, the co-owners of Orangebeanindiana.com, stood in line next to the pig pens, trying to ignore the salty sting of pig manure.
We wanted to do something for the community to celebrate the the success of our little website…and if we got a little advertising to boot, that was doubly good. Nick thought this year’s Lake County Fair would be an ideal platform to do something big (big for us, anyway). After all, ten months into the site and we’re almost at 1.5 million visitors and over 6,000 followers on our Facebook page. It’s worth celebrating.
The Lake County Fair, one of the largest fairs in Indiana, originally celebrated the state’s agricultural traditions. Since then, industry has overshadowed agriculture in the county, and the fair has become a celebratory hodge-podge of itself. Nothing wrong with that. Many of the agriculture aspects of the fair are still alive and well. Everything from decorative flowers to comb honey are judged. Nick Orange’s father actually won Second Place for his raw honey (Nick insists it was actually a group effort called Orange & Sons, of which I saw no evidence. But I humor him).
For a charitable donation, Nick had his sights set on a pig. He wanted to win a pig at the big livestock auction, the culminating event for the hard work of the young 4-H members. Various businesses make a bid on the livestock, paying far above its market value, with the extra money used to boost the 4-H program. Since Nick’s family had always been involved in 4-H, he wanted to support the program. An admirable charity and an interesting way to make a donation.
We approached the day of the auction with a mission: for me to write an article on the auction and for Nick to not bid above $600 for a pig.
“Whatever you do, make me sound like a hero in the article,” Nick said.
“I know exactly how I’m going to write this article,” I said, “That we have no idea what we’re doing. Because we don’t.”
“Heroes, Tim! Make us heroes,” Nick insisted.
“Heroes,” I agreed. “You got it.”
We walked around the show pens, looking at the sleeping rows of swine that would be auctioned and then processed. The cuts would be packaged and returned to the winners.
The daughter of a mutual high school friend had put her pigs into the auction for the first time this year, so we thought those would be excellent choice for bidding.
Now, we didn’t know a thing about auctions. Neither of us had ever attended this auction, except when we were little. We had NO idea what we were doing.
Even so, we’d still do it proudly. Like, uh, heroes.
We had one ace-in-the-hole. Nick’s brother, Chris Orange, who had contributed several story ideas to our site and managed Lake County’s Grand Kankakee Marsh, had agreed to meet us there. Chris knew the process, knew the pricing and could walk us through it. If Chris hadn’t been there to show us the ropes, I think we would have ended up leaving with a $400 chicken.
We discovered that our budget wasn’t going to allow us to buy our first set of choices, pigs that went for over a thousand dollars each. Instead, we decided that a still-prestigious Reserved Champion would be ideal, and we found one that belonged to a friend…of a friend.
We waited. And waited. It was hot in the barnfrom both the weather and the few hundred bodies stuffed into it. And the livestock. Nick started fanning himself with the paper auction paddle, but then thought better of it. Eventually, he decided to tuck it away in a bag to avoid an accidental bid.
I’d love to tell you that we were ready for our bidding battle, but we weren’t. I had stepped out to get a soda and was politely weaving my way back in. Chris was, once again, trying to explain the bidding pricing to Nick.
“You’re bidding on a price per pound, not on the total price…” Chris said.
Nick just wanted the total price, but instead of dealing with the math he cut to the chase and told Chris to tell him when he should stop bidding.
When the auction started, I was still trying to get my camera working.
Then our pig was up and running around.
The auctioneer rattled off the prices, doing that endless, almost-musical parade of syllables that is the signature of auctioneers everywhere. As entertaining as it is, we couldn’t understand much. Nick raised his paddle and the two spotters stabbed their fingers at him. Someone else bid on the pig, Nick raised his paddle again.
I thought the price was at $2 a pound, so I told Nick. The auctioneer had said $1.25.
Nick looked over at me, confused, but countered another bid with a flick of his paddle. And another. I will give Nick credit; although he didn’t know what the price was or could understand anything the auctioneer said, Nick hung in there. I probably would have waved off. Then the auction was over.
The auctioneer’s voice crackled over the antique loudspeaker. “Lot 71 sold for $618 to…” He looked hard at our name then up at us. I think it was the first time a website ever sponsored a 4-H auction. “Orange. Bean. Indiana.” Another crackle. “Dot com. Congratulations.”
We had won. Looking like fools, no doubt, but we had won, and we got our name out to a few hundred people. Sort of. After receiving a thank you and a firm handshake from Aiden Krieter, the young man who had raised the pig, we said our goodbyes. Chris was proud of us. We could have screwed that up a lot more than we did.
On our way out of the fair, we discussed the article, with Nick insisting, tongue-in-cheek, that we be made to look like heroes of the day, swooping in and winning the bidding at the last second. As heroes, we would humbly flaunt our donation to a good cause, all while promoting the success of our website.
It was then I realized that I didn’t have a picture of the pig. In fact, I hadn’t even seen it.
Smiling, Nick said, “Oh, you’ll see it again. On a plate. For your family’s Christmas dinner.”
*Nick asked that I be sure to add that he is a vegetarian.