Annual steer sale at Manatee fair teaches youth lessons of life

cnudi@bradenton.comJanuary 22, 2012 

PALMETTO -- After months of feeding, grooming and raising calves, 60 county youth reaped the fruits of their labor Saturday at the Manatee County Fair steer sale.

The 62 steers, weighing between 963 pounds and 1,304 pounds each, went on the auction block, providing each competitor monies for future college tuition and other needs.

But the money is not the only reason the youth put in the hard work and daily dedication of caring for the animals.

“It’s fun,” said Billie Michelle Mason, 8, who at 42 pounds was one of the smallest participants. “I got to try something new.”

Billie Michelle raised Peaches from birth to a 1,061-pound steer.

The Williams Elementary School third-grader said she entered the competition, which included the judging show Wednesday, because her parents, Billy and Karen Muffet Mason, participated in the county fair event when they were young.

Billie Michelle got $3.50 a pound for her steer -- more than $3,700.

Her sister, Elanie Mason, and brother, Tyler Harper, also were competitors this year.

“Our family has been involved for around 11 years,” said Billy Mason. “It teaches them the fundamentals” of life.

The annual steer show and sale also is a family affair for the Wingate clan.

Three of Tamara and Gene Wingate’s children entered the competition and all three were awarded ribbons.

Courtney Wingate, 16, who has been participating for eight years, earned the highest ribbon award of Grand Champion for her 1,300-pound steer, Tater.

Her sister, Casey Wingate, 12, received one of the Top Three County Calves ribbons for the 1,148- pound Furby she raised, and brother Clay Wingate, 8, took the Junior Showman- ship ribbon for his 1,211-pound Bush at Wednesday’s judging.

At the auction Satur- day, Courtney received $4 a pound for her champion steer.

But for the two younger competitors, it also was a sad day, knowing the animals they raised and grew to love will be heading to the butcher.

Both shed tears after leading their steers out of the bidding ring.

Alex Turner, 12, also said he was sad about the fate of his 988-pound steer he raised from a 5-month-old calf, but knew the experience will help him learn about life.

“It’s a lot of responsibility,” said Alex, a Buffalo Creek Middle School sixth-grader. “Every morning before school you have to feed it, then after school again.”

His grandfather, John Stephens, was the successful bidder for Alex’s steer.

“You got to support the grandchildren,” Stephens said.

Stephens said he has been buying pigs and steers at the fair event for about 25 years and is involved with 4-H and Future Farmers of America, the two organizations that teach the participants about animal husbandry.

Kelly and George Parry, owners of Slentz Electric in Palmetto, also are long-time supporters of the steer auction.

“This teaches them a good work ethic,” Kelly Parry said.

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