ASHLAND — On a cool, autumnal morning in September, there is only one thing on the minds of 175 Ashland County 4-H kids participating in the market hog auction.
“Alright folks, it’s payday for these kids here today,” said auctioneer Seth Andrews, before sliding into the fast-talking chant for the next two hours.
But the market hog auction — and others like market steers, goats, lambs and poultry — is much bigger than how much the animals are sold for.
Walking into the coliseum, you're greeted by all sorts of smells and sounds: steaming coffee, fresh donuts and other pastries, laughter, hay, manure and dirt. There’s also the near-constant din of the auctioneer’s vocal efforts to snag the best prices for the animals.
The first hog, a 258-pound Grand Champion raised by 11-year-old Gunnar White, snagged a premium of $15 per pound.
The homeschooled boy has raised animals for around five years, along with two of his siblings. This was the first time he’s done this well.
“I didn’t think that would happen,” he said, donning a cowboy hat with a circumference that if straightened out, would be taller than him. When asked what he planned on doing with the $3,870 he had just received from buyer Ashland Pump, his dad — Dave White — answered before he could.
“Save it,” he said, laughing.
His son said he wasn’t sure. All he knew was that Marty, the name of his “noisy” hog, would no longer be part of his life. He had raised him from birth at the family’s Wayne County farm for the last six months or so. Now, Marty would become food for employees over at Ashland Pump.
“So this is to support the kids, but it’s also for our employees,” said Ryan Fickes, vice president of sales and marketing for Ashland Pump.
Fickes said he hoped to buy 10 hogs that morning. Marty had been the first and he had just bought the second before taking time to talk with a reporter.
“I didn’t really plan on getting the grand champion,” he said, referring to White’s 258-pound Marty.
Sometimes he raised his hand to keep the bidding process moving. That’s what happened just before nabbing the grand champion.
Either way, “It’s just good to support these kids,” he said.
Sometimes the pig’s meat doesn’t go to the seller, instead supporting a local butcher shop. And sometimes the seller decides to “turn the pig.”
According to Jackie Wasilewski, OSU-Extension Coordinator and 4-H advisor, an animal’s turn price determines its market price, a figure far smaller than the auction price. The difference between the two, she said, sometimes are turned over to a designated Ashland County Fair budget item.
This year, the turn prices went toward funding a new sound system in the fairground’s swine barn, Wasilewski said.
White’s grand champion pig set the bidding bar high. Most of the others sold between $3.50 and $10. But White’s purse wasn’t the morning’s heaviest.
That distinction went to Malea Tafur, a 13-year-old from Jeromesville. Her hog fetched a hefty $18 a pound.
“If I go to $15, will you go to $16?” asked the auctioneer. “Yes! How ‘bout if I go to $17 — yes!”
Tafur’s 263-pound hog — affectionately named Peppa Pig — went to Char Patterson, Tafur’s grandmother, for $18 a pound, totaling $4,734.
The Hillsdale student has been doing this for four years. Last year, her hog sold for $5.50 a pound. She was happy with the result of this year’s hard work, but it was also a bittersweet moment, Tafur said.
“I would let her out, let her run around. She liked to be pet,” she said of her Peppa Pig. “I let her play in the mini dog pool.”
Tafur and her immediate family doesn’t eat pork, so Peppa Pig will instead be enjoyed at the extended family’s dinner table, said Tafur’s mom, Amy.
Some students donate a portion of their earnings to organizations in the community. Sometimes the buyers themselves donate the meat to charity.
That was part of the plan for Joe Reep, Ashland Comfort Control’s president. His goal was to purchase two hogs Friday morning. Along with a lamb and a goat, he said.
One of the hogs would be donated to Associated Charities of Ashland County, an organization with a food bank, along with other social services.
The other, he said, would be split among Ashland Comfort Control’s 30 employees.
“We like to support them, for all they do for us,” he said, sitting in one of the bleachers facing the auctioneer.
Smiling, he said: “The bacon and sausage always goes first.”