PALMETTO -- Spa Baby Boy, a 1,100-pound steer, eats a 50-pound bag of feed every other day so he will be pleasingly plump for the 97th Manatee County Fair.
But Buffalo Creek Middle School student Dannie Glassburn, Spa Baby Boy's 14-year-old owner, and other Manatee County 4-H youth hoping to sell their livestock projects are finding it pricier than ever to feed their animals.
The cost is putting a burden on their parents and support teams, they say.
"My dad kind of groans when he sees the prices," said Buffalo Creek Middle School student Haylee Casey, a 13-year-old in Duette who is raising a steer named T-Bone for the fair.
A 50-pound bag of steer feed costs about $16 due to both the drought in the western United States, where corn is raised, and the country's increasing demand for ethanol, which is made from corn.
A bag of feed was $4 a decade ago, notes Betty Glassburn, a leader of The Mighty 4-H'ers of Duette.
"I'm really concerned because my money is running low," said Glassburn's granddaughter, Dannie. "If you don't get the right price per pound, you might get most of your money back -- but not as much as you wanted."
Dannie's family believes she has about $2,500 invested in her steer and she didn't even have to buy it, as most youths do, which runs $700 to $1,000. Dannie raised her steer from her own herd off Keentown Road in Duette.
Many youths who raise steers in Manatee County figure they will need $3 to $3.25 per pound from a buyer for their steer this year just to break even. The fair is scheduled for Jan. 17-27.
"First off, they may have paid $750 for their calf in August, where years ago it was $300," said Jim Strickland, Manatee County's Agricultural Land Appraiser and former president of the Florida Cattlemen's Association.
"There again, corn is the difference. When I was over total livestock at the fair, we would always try to let every kid make $2.25 per pound," Strickland recalled. "We felt that was barely breaking even. But $3.25, that might be high. I would certainly say those kids need to get $3 a pound."
A bushel of corn on the Chicago market hit an all-time high of $8 recently and is now around $6, said Woody Larson, president of the Florida Cattlemen's Association.
"If I was a young per-son today, I would try todo my best and maybesubstitute citrus pulp,"said Larson, who is from Okeechobee. "But nothing fattens a steer like corn. Corn is king. The reason they picked corn to create ethanol is that corn has energy."
Youth who raise livestock are required to write at least three letters to buyers before the fair to promote their projects. But some savvy young 4-H'ers are going way beyond that this year in response to the high feed prices, said Dan West, Manatee County fair manager.
"The kids are out marketing their animals," West said. "One buyer I talked to said he had received 90 letters already, and kids are also visiting buyers."
Larson said it's particularly tough on kids because they are buying one bag at a time, not in bulk.
"If I could talk to thebuyers," Larson said. "Iwould say, 'You are not growing a calf. You are growing a citizen and what is that worth?'"
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.
IF YOU GO
What: Manatee County Fair
Where: 1402 14th Ave. W., Palmetto
When: Jan. 17-27
Theme: "Manatee Goes Hollywood"