MANATEE -- For the last 17 months, Sierra Langston has dedicated her time to "Bayou," a 1,204-pound Maine X Angus steer.
The duo won Grand Champion Steer on Saturday at the Manatee County Fair.
"It's been a great learning experience," said Langston, a member of the Lakewood Ranch High School FFA. "I hate to get rid of him. You try not to create a bond because you come into the project knowing you'll have to sell."
Bayou was the first of 62 steers auctioned Saturday afternoon, bringing in $8 a pound from Tarpon Pointe Grill. Langston needed the steer to sell for $3 to break even on the initial cost of the animal and feed. Langston left the arena with a smile on her face, knowing she made about $6,000.
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Langston's friend, Jessica Enbach, won Reserve Grand Champion Steer for her 1,277-pound Maine X Angus named "Biggin."
Before the sale, Enbach was hoping for at least $4 a pound.
"I'll be grateful for whatever I get," Enbach said.
She got $5 from a courteous representative from Honda Cars of Bradenton, who actually won the bid at $4.75 and raised himself. Enbach was sad to see Biggin go.
"You take an animal and gain its trust," said Embach, who has participated for the past five or six years. "He'll look you in the eye and then you have to turn around and
sell. But it's a big responsibility. I used to be so shy, now I have no problem talking to people."
Gracie Kreis, 9, experienced a range of emotions as she prepared "Red Man," a short hair Hereford steer for auction -- hosing him down, blowing him dry and combing him.
"I'm nervous because I don't know how much money I'll get," said Kreis of her first steer auction. "I'm excited about the money. But I'm sad because he's really friendly and I don't want to see him go."
All animals sold between $2.50 to $8 per pound.
"Everybody is happy with the prices and the support of the community and businesses," said Dan West, fair manager.
Before the steer sale many of the kids got their minds off of saying good-bye by trying their hands at whip-popping in the first contest of its kind at the Manatee County Fair, sponsored by the Manatee Cattlemen's Association and Farm Credit.
Enbach cracked two different whips while standing and kneeling.
"I got my first whip when I was 4," Enbach said. "I used to pop the heck out of myself all the time. The more you pop, the more tricks you can do."
Langston and Zach Quattlebaum, who held a newspaper as a target for Enbach to show her precision, called the situation "scary."
"They've never seen me pop a whip," said Enbach, who ranks third in the state for whip-popping. "I haven't done it since October. But it's like riding a bike; You never forget how."
Whip-popping is a family affair for the Brewingtons.
Buffy began the craft when she was 13. Now her children, Brittany, 14, and Landen, 10, are following in her footsteps.
"We just do it for fun," Buffy said. "It just takes a lot of practice."
While judges were tallying the contest's winners, Cliff Curley decided to give it a try.
"It's harder than it looks," Curley said, as he swung the whip in hopes to hear a loud pop.
Winners in the 10 and under division were: First place, Jake McKendree, 6; second place, Landen Brewington, 10; third place, Jax Berry, 5. Winners in the 11 and older division were: First place, Jake DeSear, 17; second place, Boyd Kersey, 11; third place, Wendy DeSear, 13.
The barbecue contest, sponsored by Crowder Bros. Ace Hardware, was also held Saturday. Teams began preparing the beef short ribs, provided by The Chop Shop, at noon and were judged at 4 p.m. Cash prizes are to be donated to the organization of the top teams' choices.
The winners were: First place, Eco Consultants Inc., donating $500 to Manatee Agricultural Museum; second place, Blenker Boat Works, donating $250 to an undetermined charity; third place, Manatee Maniacs, donating $150 to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Manatee County.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.