ANDERSON, Calif. — Tiana Uhl has been bringing pigs and steers to the local fair here for six seasons, but this year was a little more difficult.
With the price of hay and other feed sharply escalating, the 18-year-old from Cottonwood, Calif., had to take two part-time jobs to cover the extra costs of getting her steer ready for judging and auction.
“Definitely” the drought has been a factor, said Uhl, who will attend California State University-Chico in the fall with a goal of becoming a veterinarian.
“I work at a feed store, and prices have gone up from $12 a bale to more than $20,” she said. “Their feeding costs have gone up quite a bit.”
The higher feed costs, brought on by an expected 20 percent drop in hay production in California this year, are one of several ways in which drought conditions made it more difficult for FFA and 4-H students to get their animals ready for events such as the Shasta District Fair.
“The biggest difficulty with the drought is you have to take a lot more care in keeping your livestock cool,” said Josh Meade, 17, of Happy Valley, Calif., who brought a pig to the fair.
Some fairs have already reported a trend in recent years of youngsters moving to smaller animals such as chickens and rabbits, partly because of feed costs. For the large-animal entrants that remain, more are finding it difficult to make it past sifting.
For instance, the field of 204 hogs entered at the Shasta fair was whittled down to 180, and only 58 of the 70 goats entered made the cut, fair livestock supervisor Teresa Albaugh said.
“It’s hard to feed animals for a date for the fair,” she said. “A lot of it was the weather, and some of it was feed costs.”
The Shasta fair’s water allotment was cut by 20 percent because of the drought, so watering for such things as dust control was kept to a minimum. The hundreds of student entrants were asked to be frugal when washing their animals, Albaugh said.
When Uhl began bringing animals to the fair six years ago, she started with pigs. She noticed there were lighter weights in the pig barn this year, and steers are “a lot smaller than they used to be,” she said.
However, the students said persevering with their projects gave them a valuable lesson in what ranchers are going through this year. Uhl said she works on her uncle’s ranch in South Dakota every summer and “he always asks about California.”
“I think what you learn from raising livestock with your own hands is invaluable,” Meade said.
Shasta District Fair: http://shastadistrictfair.com