Student livestock auctions move online after coronavirus cancels Austin, Houston rodeos

Coronavirus

LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — Central Texas students are turning to the internet to auction off cattle, goats, pigs and other livestock they’ve raised as part of scholastic agriculture programs.

For teenagers in 4-H and FFA programs, stock shows at major rodeos are a chance to show off their hard work and earn back some of the money they spent on feed, travel and other expenses necessary to raise livestock. After both the Austin and Houston rodeos were cancelled to combat the spread of the new coronavirus, that chance evaporated for many local students.

“When I first saw that press release come out,” said Rouse High School sophomore Brayden Ulguray, “my heart sank to my stomach.”

Brayden Ulguray shows a pig he raised in photos taken for the auction site. (Photo Courtesy: Twisted W Photography)

Ulguray raised seven pigs, a calf and a goat this year; two of those animals are among the hundreds now up for bid on the Austin Rodeo page of Stock Show Auctions. Another auction page is for students who couldn’t show at the Houston Rodeo.

Most of the animals are considered “premiums,” meaning the bidder does not keep the animal. Instead, the high bid amounts to a donation for the student to support his or her agricultural efforts the following year. Some of the lots up for auction, though, are called “terminal,” indicating the buyer does get to keep the animal.

It’s a big investment to raise livestock, and the online auction is a relief for students like Ulguray who were counting on the big shows. “My mind just exploded with excitement,” he said. “All that money’s going back to our next year’s projects.”

‘He put his heart into this’

Beyond the financial investment, FFA and 4-H students pour plenty of time and effort into raising their animals, researching and measuring out just the right mix of feeds and supplements, grooming them and making sure they’re show-ready.

Jacob McQuinn poses with Reba. (Photo Courtesy: Twisted W Photography)

Jacob McQuinn, another Rouse FFA student, had just moved his calf into the barn at the Houston show after spending hours traveling and waiting in line when he got word of the cancellation. “I was pretty upset,” he told KXAN via video chat from a Leander ISD barn where he was tending to Reba, his 16-month-old Red Brangus heifer.

McQuinn, who started raising animals to help on his grandfather’s ranch, plans to breed Reba (and hopes she’s pregnant now) to show her with a calf next year. The premium shows in Austin and Houston were his opportunities to show off his hard work and dedication.

“It was kind going to be like my last hope for the show season, really,” he said, “the chance to hopefully increase the value of my heifer” through the donations the premium sale would bring in.

“It’s heartbreaking,” his mom, Laura McQuinn, said. “It’s a lot of work. He put his heart into this.”

The online auctions are available until Saturday.

A new idea

The auction site is run by Brent Graves, a Stephenville father whose daughter is a freshman in an FFA chapter there. When the rodeos cancelled, she asked her dad if they could put the stock shows online instead.

He was hesitant at first, Graves told KXAN, because he wasn’t sure how it would work. Premium sales are typically a chance for local businesses to sponsor individual students and, in turn, receive some advertising.

But he brought together a team of people to build out the auction site, and within a few days, the sites were live and thousands of kids started posting their animals.

Graves hopes it helps students qualify for scholarships and degrees in the state, which often require showing animals. All donations are passed through the nonprofit Cowboys 4 Heroes, which makes sales tax-deductible.

Stock shows from California to Florida have already reached out to see if he can do the same for them.

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