Raising farm animals for the livestock auction at the Mother Lode Fair has blossomed into a family tradition for the Blooms.
Foothill 4-H Club members Grace Bloom, 17, Spencer Bloom, 14, and Belle Bloom, 10, are all set to show off the animals they have cared for over the past several months when the 76th annual Mother Lode Fair kicks off today in Sonora.
It will be Grace's eighth year in competition, Spencer's fifth and Belle's first.
Their enthusiasm for 4-H has been passed down to them by their mother, Leslie Bloom, 46, who used to raise livestock for auction at similar events while growing up in Monterey County.
"It just kind of happened that Grace, Spencer, and Belle started doing this when each of them turned 9," she said.
Belle will show her Suffolk cross lamb named Carl in the showmanship and market classes at 8 a.m. Friday, while at the same time Grace shows her Hampshire cross, Apollo, in the market class, and her ewe, Fancy, in the breeding class.
That same day, Spencer will show his polled purebred Hereford steer, named Challenger, in the showmanship and market classes at 5 p.m.
Leslie Bloom and her husband, Matt Bloom, 43, also own and operate Kennedy Meadows Resort, a high-country lodge and animal pack station that they purchased in 1997. The family stays at the resort during the summer and splits time between there and Sonora in the winter.
"It's a way of life that's so different from what most people know," Bloom said.
The couple met while attending Fresno State University, where both graduated with bachelor's degrees in animal sciences. They later moved back to Tuolumne County, where Matt was raised, and worked at Kennedy Meadows for 10 years before buying it.
The Blooms have helped their children with various 4-H projects over the years, Leslie using her past experience, and Matt, who was on another pack trip this week, with his knowledge of ranching.
"4-H is a family thing," Leslie said. "The kids can't just do it on their own. It keeps everyone busy."
The children agreed.
"My mom did this when she was younger and she has a lot of knowledge that she shares with us, like what to expect when we're out there and things we need to work on," Grace Bloom said. "My dad's always out there every morning helping us, too. They're both a lot of help."
The Bloom kids have won a number of awards at the fair over the years, including Spencer being named Reserve Grand Champion (second best overall) in the steer category last year. Grace has also been sewing as part of 4-H and won the state championship for her projects three times.
Grace, who graduated from high school early and is already in her third year studying at Columbia College, is also one of four "All Stars" from the county selected to attend 4-H seminars around the state. She then shares what she learned at the special events with other club members.
Grace has now taken on the role of mentor to younger sister Belle, who attends Sonora Elementary School and is entering her first year showing animals at the Mother Lode Fair.
"I've been working on my showmanship with my lamb," Belle said of the preparations leading up to her debut. "I've also been just walking him and doctoring him because of the dogs."
The sheep belonging to both Belle and Grace were injured and one was killed after recently being attacked by dogs, which forced the Blooms to do a substantial amount of extra work so that the surviving animals would be well and ready in time for the fair.
Grace said her expectations of how well she would place and how much her animal would fetch at auction were lowered due to the attack, but she's already met her primary goal just by keeping them alive.
"Because of the dogs, my whole goal this year was just to get them to the fair," she said. "I'm pretty excited about it."
Meanwhile, Spencer Bloom, who attends Gold Rush Charter School, said he's been washing, combing and clipping his steer every day in advance of the fair.
He's been caring for the steer since November (Belle and Grace got their sheep in March and April, respectively) and said preparing an animal that size for auction presents unique challenges.
"You can't really manhandle him because he's bigger than you, so you have to tame him and then work on showing him," he said. "It's a good feeling when you do well, though."
Steer can also be a hot item at auction, sometimes fetching $3,000 or more.
Despite the poor economy, Leslie Bloom said the fair's livestock auction, which is held at 5 p.m. Saturday for large animals and 2:30 p.m. Sunday for small, has been a continued success.
"This community has been incredibly supportive of these kids," Leslie Bloom said. "They've backed them up more than the economy shows. And it's not just the auction, it's also the rest of it, which includes getting the animals ready to show."