ESCANABA - It's obvious that Tanner Gagne was out pounding the pavement prior to the U.P. State Fair in order to interest prospective bidders on his market steer, Bandit. Tanner, along with scores of 4-H youngsters and teens who have market animals at the fair, spends considerable time writing letters and visiting area businesses that routinely attend the fair's annual auction. Their aim is to get the best price possible for their market steer, hog or lamb.
"I went to 29 places," said Tanner, who is a member of Mid Delta 4-H Club. "I tell each one my name, the steer's name and how big he is, what kind of steer he is, when I started caring for him, and anything else they might ask me about him."
Tanner said he purchased Bandit in October, and the steer now tips the scale at 1,350 pounds. Like all 4-Hers who have market animals, Tanner has been required by his 4-H leader to keep a record of his animal from the time he obtained him until the steer is ready for exhibit at the fair. Along with recording the animal's growth progress, the youth also keeps track of the costs for feed and other expenses that have accumulated throughout the months in caring for their animal.
Photo by Dorothy McKnight
Visiting local businesses and individuals who bid on market animals at the U.P. State Fair has become a routine for these four 4-H youth, all of whom have animals that will be on the bidding block Saturday. Pictured behind the steer are, from left, Karena Latendresse of Houghton, Travis Bolm and Tanner Gagne, all of whom have market steer on exhibit at the fair. Dustin Berube, at left, is marketing a hog.
Although he has marketed steer in the past, Tanner hopes to get an "above-average price" when Bandit is included in this year's auction, scheduled for Saturday afternoon at the fairgrounds. While Tanner said he had failed to break even with his expense costs and the bidding price of his steer last year, he is nevertheless going to continue in the years to come.
"I was a little disappointed, but this year I'm pretty confident," he said. "I like taking care of steers. It's fun."
Tanner's mother, Amy Lantagne, said she was impressed with her son's willingness to eagerly market Bandit.
"He was good," she said. "I went with him and I feel he did really well."
Samantha "Sam" Berube, who has been leader of of Mid Delta Beef for the past four years, said it's difficult for many of the 4-Hers to actually make a profit on their animals.
"When they buy them, a steer can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to up to $2,000, depending on what the family wants to spend," she said. "Most can't afford to spend too much because these are castrated bulls, so marketing them for slaughter is about all they're good for."
Thirteen-year-old Travis Bolm, who is a third-generation marketer, obtained his market steer, Zane, in October. Since that time, the animal has grown from 404 pounds to 1,250. He said he began marketing his steer about two or three weeks before the scheduled fair.
"I try to contact the different businesses that I sort of know," he said. "I type out information about the steer and give them a picture. Most of the time I send them out, but this year I went to two different places. Sometimes they want to know what kind of feed i give it, and things like that."
Zane is Travis' second market steer he has raised for the fair. After selling last year's steer at $1.50 a pound, Travis said he "fell a little short" of breaking even in the sale price.
"But Zane is a little bit bigger than the one I had last year, and I think I'll do fairly well," Travis said. "Anyway, I'll find out on Saturday."
Although he would love to earn a profit on his animal, Travis said he has enjoyed the process, and that he likes to use his experiences to help other teens who are having difficulty with their own market animals.
"If I hear that someone is having a problem, I try to help them out," he said.
Zane may be Travis' final market steer, however. The teen will be a freshman at Escanaba Area High School in the fall and is a member of the school's freshman football team, so his time will be limited.
While many teens who raise market animals try not to get attached to their animals, 17-year-old Karena Latendresse of Houghton is a little more sentimental.
"I really get attached to them," she said. "After you care for them, you get to see every little quirk, and some are so cute. It's really hard getting rid of them.
Karena said she has been showing animals at fairs since she was 7, and this year's steer, named Easton, weighs in at 1270 pounds.
Although Karena said exhibiting at the U.P. State Fair fair takes her far from home, she has sold three steers at the Escanaba fair in the past. She attempts to interest local bidders in her animals by writing a letter. She also said she knows a few local businesses, which purchase as a group, who have expressed interest in her animals.
"I'm hoping to get at least $2 (per pound) this year," she said. "I'm saving to go to college, and save to buy a new steer every year, and everything goes back in when I'm done."
Ten-year-old Dustin Berube is a little more fortunate with the hog he has on exhibit at the local fair. His has already been sold to his personal doctor.
"I just asked him, 'Do you want to buy my pig this year?' and he asked me some questions and then said he would," said Dustin.
This is his second year of showing hogs, and he hopes to graduate to steer when he turns 11.
4-Hers who are marketing their animals generally make a much better impression when they visit a potential bidder in person, said Sue Sicotte, owner of Rainbow Packing.
"That's what it's all about," she said. "Some write letters, but when they come in person, I appreciate that they take the time to do it.
Sicotte said she has been bidding at the local fair auction all during the 14 years she has been in business. In addition to the fair in Escanaba, she said she usually purchases animals from five other fairs throughout the Upper Peninsula. Although she generally bids on pigs, she has been known to also bring in a lamb or two.
When she prepares to bid on an animal, Sicotte said she generally does not have a preconceived idea as to how much to bid. "It goes by what they're going for that particular year," she said. "I often go over the market price because it's for the kids and for advertising purposes, too."
Rod Stende, general manager of Elmer's County Market in Escanaba, said the store generally purchases three animals a year - usually a steer, a hog and a lamb.
"But last year we bought five," he said. "Two steers, a hog and two lambs."
Stende said Elmer's County Market typically receives more than 100 letters from 4-H youth every year. Although every one is read, Stende said the youngsters who visit in person are the ones who impress the store's marketing personnel the most.
"When Elmer was here, he loved talking with each and every kid, asking them questions and getting to know them a little bit," Stende said. "He always appreciated seeing them come in. We're hoping to keep it up."
Although the teens may make every attempt to impress the business owners with their market animals, they never have guarantees that the owners will purchase their animals.
"They like talking to us and they encourage us, but never make any promises to buy it," said Travis.