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Youths' hard work pays off at Napa livestock auction

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Long hours of work by local youths raising swine, goats, steers and lambs culminated at the Napa Town & Country Fair Junior Livestock Auction.

A final spurt of effort came Saturday morning before 9 a.m. in that vast, metal, open-air barn at Napa Valley Expo. That would be moment when the animals would be sold to the highest bidder.

Amid this world of pens, hay and wood shavings, youths in local 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FAA) programs made preparations. They fed their goats and put conditioner on their hogs.

And then the big moment arrived. The auctioneer in a cowboy hat let out a rapid torrent of words as Bella Timm of Vintage 4-H held her grand champion market lamb, 150 pounds, that brought in $66 per pound.

“Sold, right over there!" the auctioneer said before repeating the process for more than 300 animals.

Jillian Harnois, 16, brought her 1,353-pound steer Elmer and her goat Shorty to the auction. She raised them on the family’s rural property northwest of the city of Napa.

A steer might sell for $10,000, though that amount is rare, Harnois said. A steer costs several thousand dollars to raise.

Harnois has been raising animals for eight years. She’s put the money she’s made in an account for college and hopes to have $50,000 by the time she graduates from Vintage High School next year.

Raising animals means getting up early to feed them, wash them, give them time, do whatever needs to be done, said Harnois, who is with Valley Ranchers 4-H.

She also has school to attend and plays softball. Raising livestock on top of that means busy days crammed between the rising and setting of the sun.

“It gives me something to work for,” Harnois said. “There’s so much I put into it, it’s all so rewarding.”

Hana Duhig came to the auction with two black-and-white swine, aptly named Room and Board. She will be attending Pepperdine University by the end of the month.

"The money I make from this will be going toward that," she said.

Board is a 266-pound Hampshire. Room is a 239-pound Dark Cross. Duhig estimated swine can bring $11 to $14 per pound on average.

Duhig, a member of Napa Ranch 4-H, has raised animals for 13 years. Each auction means letting go of animals.

"I try not to think about it," she said with a smile. "It's hard to let them go."

After all, these pigs have personality.

"They're just playful. They're very curious animals," Duhig said.

Emiliano Maldonado, 17, of FAA St. Helena chapter, brought two goats he hasn't named. One is 71 pounds, the other 105 pounds.

"I've just got to make sure they're not stressed before I take them up for the bidding," he said. "But that's just making sure they have food and water."

Goats are his animals of choice.

"They're smaller and I just kind of have more control and they're easier to handle," he said. "I just think it's the most fun."

Joel Espinoza, 16, came with a 133-pound lamb named Henry. The Vintage High School student is with Valley Ranchers 4-H.

He estimates he's had to put in two to three hours a day with Henry.

"I have to train with my animal to make sure he's ready for the fair," Espinoza said. "And then I also have to feed and give it water and walk it too, when I can."

The Junior Livestock Auction is a din, with the sounds of people's voices, the moos, the bleating, the baaas merging beneath the metal roofs.

And, thanks to the generosity of bidders, it's an event where the work put in by local youths interested in an agribusiness experience pays off in cash.

A look at the Napa Town & Country Fair Junior Livestock Auction.

You can reach Barry Eberling at 707-256-2253 or

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