Teens sell livestock for thousands at state fair 4-H auction


On the first Saturday of the Minnesota State Fair, 18-year-old Tyler Otte’s champion Angus beef cattle earned him $5,600. 

That’s the price the Angus sold for in Saturday’s 4-H Purple Ribbon Auction, about $1,400 more than the average in last year’s auction, according to fair officials.

The afternoon before the auction, Otte was in the cattle barn grooming his a Black Angus, and he was far from alone. Young adults from all over the state were preparing their livestock for the auction the next day.

The Purple Ribbon Auction takes place every year at the Minnesota State Fair. “It originated as an extra incentive for kids to participate” in the fair activities, said 4-H volunteer Corky Modene, who raised animals for the 4-H auction himself in his younger years.

ThreeSixty Journalism is nonprofit youth journalism program based at the University of St Thomas in St. Paul. It is committed to bringing diverse voices into journalism and related professions and to using intense, personal instruction in the craft and principles of journalism to strengthen the civic literacy, writing skills and college-readiness of Minnesota teens.

To get to the auction, teenagers spend the year raising livestock and must win county fair competitions in order to get to the fair.

The auction produces huge sums of money from buyers. Kailey Davis of Freeborn County, who raised the winner of the 2010 Grand Champion Market Beef category – the one in which Otte competed – earned $14,600. Eighty percent of auction proceeds go to the young adults who raise the animals, while 20 percent, according to Modene, goes to 4-H scholarships and other educational programs.

This will be Otte’s third year participating in the Purple Ribbon Auction, so he is no stranger to the process. Otte’s family has been raising cattle since he was in the second grade. “We keep buying them, so we keep raising them,” he said, casually.

Daily care throughout the year is the biggest commitment when raising cattle for the auction, Otte said. “You have to rinse (bathe) them every day,” Otte said.

And the cattle require special, expensive feed, he said.

Bonnie Reed, a member of the 4-H Auction Committee whose children used to participate in the auction as well, said: “It takes hours a day to take care of them.”

Another commitment in raising cattle is the issue of space to accommodate the animals; but Otte said that it wasn’t really a problem for his family. “We live way in southern Dakota County, so it’s fine,” Otte said.

When asked about his feelings about raising cattle for slaughter, Otte said that it’s not hard to give them up at the end of the auction. “That may sound harsh. But it’s what an animal is, I guess,” he said, and shrugged.

“It’s what it’s raised for,” added Reed.

Although Otte is not very attached to the cattle he raises, he is to the people he meets at the auction.

“You meet a lot of cool people”, Otte said. “You meet people from all over the state. We keep in touch.”

Otte plans on going to the University of Minnesota next year with a lot of the people he has met through the 4-H auction.