Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction: Showcasing Wisconsin's best livestock

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer

WEST ALLIS - Larry Alsum sat with a program for the Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction on his lap, a circle drawn around one of the champion animals waiting to come onstage in the IH Case Coliseum at the Wisconsin State Fair on Aug. 8. 

Governor Scott Walker encourages buyers to bid often and high during the Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction at the Wisconsin State Fair on Aug. 8.

"There is a strategy," said Alsum. "You come to these and have a lot of fun and to help the kids out. You really have to figure out where your price range is."

Alsum, with Alsum Farms and Produce, has been coming to the Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction for five to six year and has bought an animal every year with a consortium of two other businesses. One year they bought two animals. 

Reid Runkel, 17, of Burlington, gets high five from Governor Scott Walker during bidding for his Grand Champion Steer at the Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction at the Wisconsin State Fair on Aug. 8.

"Last year we were runner up for the grand champion steer, so that could have been expensive, but we ended up with a reserve steer," Alsum said. "It's always been a fun event."

Alsum said they always donate the animals to the scholarship fund.

"We think that's a good program for the kids to be able to get scholarships," added Alsum. 

Related:Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock auction brings in $316,800

Proceeds from the sale of meat from animals donated to the scholarship fund is combined to increase the scholarship fund for the next year, in the donor's name. This year, $30,000 in scholarships were awarded to 26 youth. 

Alsum got started participating in livestock auctions at county fairs in his area, Green Lake County and Columbia County. After a few years he partnered with Dalton Lumber and Supply and Trembling Prairie Farms and decided to "work together and come down to the State Fair."

While his strategy at the auction is "to find the price range we can afford and support the kids," he also looks for kids in his area. "If there are any kids from our area, that's always our first priority," said Alsum.

Ainsley Balfanz, of Waterford, poses with her Champion Breed Crossbred Lamb after Premier Insurance Solutions won the bid at the Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction at the Wisconsin State Fair on Aug. 8.

Dave Kilpatrick, with Premier Insurance Solutions, has a similar strategy, looking for youth he knows or whose family may have been a long-time customer, like Ainsley Balfanz. Even though the bid for her Grand Champion Lamb Crossbreed started at the top of his budget, Kilpatrick said his wife, Christi, told him to buy it, “she’s the boss.”

"We bought her brother's hog at the Racine County Fair, so we decided to buy Ainsley's sheep at state fair," Kilpatrick said. 

Kilpatrick and Christi go to six different county fairs each year. The kids have come to know him as “the cookie man” because his request of the winners is always a dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies, made by the youth.

"I've been buying for 25 years at county fairs," said Kilpatrick. But Premier Insurance Solutions has a staff of 17 around the state and each go to different county fairs throughout the state buying livestock.

Renee Schall, with Premier Insurance Solutions said they go to the fairs to support the kids that are showing animals.

Ryan Schubert, 12, of Mineral Point, waits to walk his Champion Breed Barrow Duroc onto the stage for the Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction at the Wisconsin State Fair on Aug. 8.

"We think it's a great cause and it helps them," said Schall. "They work hard all summer and a lot of them use that for their college education." 

Kilpatrick pointed out that somebody did it for them, so they in turn are supporting today's youth. 

"The kids of 20 years ago are now leaders in business," Kilpatrick said, "and we are still friends 20 years later."

Schall used the money she earned exhibiting animals at fairs to help pay for college.

"You will notice those kids that are showing and selling their animals, are also helping in the community at different events and volunteering. It's for a good cause. They are the leaders of the future," Shall said. 

Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection Secretary Sheila Harsdorf noted that not only would buyers at the Blue Ribbon Auction see the best examples of the $88 billion agriculture industry in the state, but they would have the opportunity to buy that livestock and support the future of agriculture in the state.

"The dollars you spend tonight will go to fund the youth programs we have here in the state," said Harsdorf. "These are the future of agriculture in our state."

The first example of the best livestock in the state walked across the stage as Reid Runkel, 17, of Burlington, brought his Grand Champion Crossbred steer out. The smile on Runkel's face grew as the amount of the bids, with Meijer casting the winning bid of $47,500.

It was a surreal moment for Runkel, who has been showing at the State Fair for four years. Last year after getting in the Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction with a champion Simmental, he told his dad he wanted to win.

Auctioneer Gary Finley gets the bidding going during the Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction at the Wisconsin State Fair on Aug. 8.

"I busted my butt a lot harder," said Runkel. "I spent a lot more time working with my animal and it paid off." 

It meant not hanging out with friends, working until 10:30 every night with his steer, "so by the time you're done doing that, you want to go to bed and wake up the next morning to do it again. I had to give up a lot of stuff for this," he said. 

Runkel, a four-time national champion snowmobile racer who had been racing since he was 4, was on his way to being a pro when his dad told him he had to give something up, he couldn’t do everything.

"For some reason, God told me to go this way and it paid off," said Runkel. 

His mom, Gail, wiped away tears as she watched her son. Her daughter also shows and won the Racine County Fair with one of her steers. With two children showing and working in the barn together, it gets "very stressful between the two," said Gail Runkel. "But at the end of the day, they work together as a team and it paid off for both of them."

Chance Austin, 12, of Milton, leads his Champion Breed Steer Charolais in for the Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction at the Wisconsin State Fair on Aug. 8.

At 12 years of age, Chance Austin, of Milton, already knows the hard work required to get to the Governor's Blue Ribbon Auction. In his first time showing at the State Fair, Austin's Charolais won Champion Breed Steer. 

“I was surprised that I won,” said Austin. He attributes his success to waking “up early to get him in the barn every morning” and letting “(his steer) out late at night and that just grew a lot of hair and that hair made us shape him how we wanted.”

More than 600 Wisconsin State Fair Junior beef, swine and sheep exhibitors compete for a spot in the Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction, according to the auction program guide. "Understanding the important impact of youth continuing Wisconsin's agricultural legacy," the auction continues the "legacy of celebrating Wisconsin youth."