On top of attending class, studying for tests and going to basketball and softball practices, Becky Hart’s final semester at Summerville High included twice daily visits to the school’s farm so she could walk and feed her Hampshire Suffolk mix lamb that sold for $1,300 on Saturday in the Mother Lode Fair’s junior livestock auction.

Hart, 18, of Tuolumne, also made $550 on two chickens she raised that sold the following day in the small livestock auction, as well as an additional $500 and commemorative belt buckle as this year’s recipient of the Ron Airington Outstanding Ranch Hand Award for helping around the fair.

“I took ag my freshman year (at Summerville High) not knowing what I was going to get into, then I really enjoyed the animal side of it,” she said. “For me, I get more responsibility, because you’re caring for an animal that depends on you.”

The money will help Hart later this year when she moves to Modesto Junior College, where she will live on campus as an intern in the school’s agriculture department. Her ultimate goal is to become an equine therapist for children.

Hart said she believes the auctions at the annual fair represent the community coming together to support local kids and their goals.

“Most of the kids are extremely hard workers, and all have the same goal to raise an animal, not just for money but for the experience as well,” she said. “I’ll definitely miss the experience of raising that animal and the satisfaction of selling it, but I will definitely be back and helping for as many years as I can.”

Hart has been showing and selling lambs at the fair’s livestock auctions for the past three years as a member of Summerville’s Future Farmers of America. She’s the first generation in her family to show at the fair, though her father, Jason, was a president of FFA in his senior year.

Part of what sparked Hart’s interest in agriculture was being raised in Tuolumne County, where it has long been considered one of the top private industries.

“Unlike some, I got the opportunity to be raised in a community where agriculture is a predominant industry,” she said. “You might not see many farms or ranches in the city, whereas I can drive two minutes to a ranch or farm and see everything on the agriculture side.”

Sales at this year’s livestock auctions again shattered the previous records set in 2017.

The junior livestock auction for beef, sheep and swine saw nearly $415,000 in total sales, up from the earlier record of about $369,000. That included 71 swine, 21 lambs and 12 steers.

Most of the proceeds go back to the exhibitors except for about 7 percent that goes back into a fund to defray the costs of putting on the auction, said Kim Helmbold, the fair’s livestock superintendent.

Grace Davis, of Summerville Future Farmers of America, had the highest single sale of the junior livestock auction, Helmbold said, selling her 1,388-pound supreme steer for $22,100.

Britain Traub, of Sonora Future Farmers of America, sold a 278-pound hog for a total of $19,460, the highest sale per pound at $70.

Helmbold said buyers include mostly individuals, some of whom include doctors and dentists, as well as businesses like Black Oak Casino Resort, Chicken Ranch Casino and Blue Mountain Minerals.

Though there were 21 fewer animals in the auction than last year, Helmbold said she believes the increase in overall sales could be due to a mix of factors including an improved economy and marketing by the exhibitors.

The small livestock auction on Sunday for poultry, rabbits and goats recorded total sales of $48,200, up from about $37,000 last year.

There were a total of 75 lots in the auction that included 17 meat goats, 23 turkeys, 28 pairs of market chickens, rabbits, two ducks and a pygmy goat.

An auction benefiting the Tuolumne County Small Livestock Exhibitors’ Association was held directly after that netted $15,275. Each animal is donated by an exhibitor.

Sue Moore, of the Tuolumne County Small Livestock Exhibitors’ Association, said proceeds from past benefit auctions have been used for new siding on the rabbit-poultry barn at the fairgrounds, new holding pens for goats and poultry shows, and a new PA system for the livestock arena.

Moore said all of the animals sold in both auctions were taken to Riella Farms in Manteca on Monday and delivered in a refrigerated truck to the buyers at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds that night.

Caitlyn Tucker, 18, of Summerville’s Future Farmers of America, is a recent graduate of Summerville High like Hart but plans to continue showing at the fair for another year.

Tucker showed and sold a market lamb and market goat at the past two fairs. This year she netted about $1,275 for the lamb and $650 for the goat.

She plans on reinvesting the money for next year’s fair, where she plans to sell market chickens.

None of Tucker’s family was involved with agriculture before she joined FFA and started taking classes in her first year of high school because she likes animals. She and her family moved to the county from Ceres when she was in first grade.

“I think If I stayed living where I would have, I would be a totally different person and not involved with agriculture,” she said. “This county is a good one to live in if you want to just grow as an individual.”

Tucker believes her experience raising animals has taught her about responsibility, patience and dedication.

She plans to pass on her knowledge to her two younger siblings, who are following in her footsteps and will be showing goats at the fair in the coming years.

“I want to show them all that this entails and how it makes you a better person to be part of this program,” Tucker said.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemiocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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