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July 30, 2005|By GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

The cost of livestock at Friday's Washington County 4-H Market Animal Sale had less to do with national market forces and more to do with tradition, friends and kindness.

Neal Beard, 62, of Boonsboro, bought a capon, or neutered male chicken, at auction for $200 Friday from Tracey Forsythe. The purchase was one of 14 in that class.

"It's for the kids," Beard said. "Whatever I can do to help, that's great."

The chicken will be part of a future family dinner, said Beard, who is a hoof trimmer by trade. He said coming to the sale is something he likes to do annually.

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The sale is the capstone event for the annual, weeklong Washington County Ag Expo, which is held at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center near Sharpsburg.

Time after time Friday night as auctioneers called out prices, family friends and local company representatives nodded their heads and raised their hands to stake claim to the cows, goats, lambs, pigs, rabbits and chickens that were paraded through the earthen auction ring by the young caretakers.

There were 186 animals scheduled for auction Friday, and by night's end thousands of dollars would change hands.

Jeff Semler, a Washington County agriculture extension agent and one of the Ag Expo's organizers, said he's never seen a correlation between actual market prices and the cost of animals sold during Ag Expo.

Sometimes the sale price might be twice as much as market rate.

"What we were told as kids is if you get more than market price, you're ahead of the game," Semler said.

No matter how much money an animal fetched, some of the youths selling the animals said it was still difficult to part with the animals after having invested months working with them.

Brenna House, 15, of Hagerstown, was consoling a younger participant, Katrina Smith, 10, of Clear Spring, after Smith sold a pair of pigs.

Smith's mother, Karen Smith, 47, said her daughter had worked with the animals for about four months, picking one particularly because it was the cutest.

The younger Smith was teary-eyed after her animals were sold Friday, nodding quietly when asked if she was having a tough day.

Smith said she'd be back next year, though.

"I want to show 'em again," Smith said.

House said she remembered the first time she sold an animal.

"I was so upset because I'd never done it before," House said. Talking to Smith, House said, the other side of the coin is bright.

"We have this awesome week, and we talk to people that we don't usually get to (talk to), and that is an experience in and of itself," House said.

Timmy Martin, 15, said he was going to be selling two sheep and two pigs Friday. He said his mind was on money.

"We hope to break even or make a little profit," Martin said. "I try not to get attached to my animals at all. Your first couple of years, it's pretty hard."

Martin did well with at least one of his animals. His grand champion pig, which weighed in at 249 pounds, was bought by Jair Barr, 40, of Beaver Creek, for $2.90 a pound, or $722.10.

Barr, who is the owner of Auto Electric Inc. on Maryland Avenue in Hagerstown, said the meat from the pig would go to employees, but another pleasure from buying the animal is from helping the young salesmen and women.

"When I was a kid, I used to show steers. ... It's kind of giving back," Barr said.

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