Livestock Auction Buyer FAQ

Frequently-asked questions about buying animals at the New Hampshire 4-H Livestock Auction at the Hopkinton Fair

1. I’ve never been to an auction, how does the process work when I go to the Hopkinton Fair?  

The day of the NH 4-H Livestock Show & Auction is very exciting for the sellers and buyers alike. As a buyer, you would have received a welcome packet from the auction committee several weeks prior to the sale containing detailed information about what to expect on the day of the sale.  Once you arrive at the Hopkinton State Fairgrounds you can find the 4-H Livestock Auction animals penned/tied for viewing as early as 8 a.m. at the swine/beef show ring. Sellers will be with the animals that morning to help answer any questions you may have. Located just outside of the showring is a registration desk where auction committee members are also available to help answer any questions and to get you registered with a buyer’s number.  

At 10 a.m. the market classes begin in the swine/beef show ring and the judge will provide their assessment of the animals’ market readiness.  Following the market classes, we invite all buyers to join the auction committee for a buyer’s luncheon. At the conclusion of the luncheon (12:30 p.m.) the auction will begin. Sale order (species and seller #) will be posted ringside during lunch. Bids are placed as a dollar per pound amount based on live weight. Payment (cash or check) is due at the end of the auction. Once the auction has concluded and payment has been made, the auction committee will help you move the animal to the transportation of your choice (pre-arranged transportation or one of the processors' trailers who are in attendance). 

2. What if I cannot attend in person or don’t want to attend in person? Can I still bid on an animal? How will I know what animals are available?  

In-person attendance is not required to place a bid for the N.H. 4-H Livestock Auction. Absentee bids are accepted up to one week prior to the auction. You can contact Michelle Bersaw-Robblee at the Merrimack County 4-H Office to get a list of what animals are available through the auction. You can also check the N.H. 4-H Livestock Sale & Auction Facebook page for updates from sellers on the progress of their animals throughout the summer. 

To place an absentee bid, email Michelle Bersaw (michelle.bersaw@unh.edu) with the type of animal(s) you want to purchase and the maximum dollar per pound bid you want to place. You can also indicate if there is a specific 4-H sellers’ animal you would like to bid on. 

3. Are any of the animals certified organic? How will I know how the animal has been raised and what kind of feed it has been given?  

The N.H. 4-H Livestock Sale & Auction Committee does not certify that any of the animals participating in the auction are certified organic. However, individual animals may have been raised using organic practices. During the morning prior to the auction, sellers are on hand to answer questions from buyers and would be able to provide information on the practices and feed used to raise their animal. 

4. How much can I expect to spend on an animal? What is the typical range that I might pay when bidding on an animal?  

This is an auction where animals are sold by the pound.  So, when you are bidding on an animal that weights 100 pounds and you have bid $2.00 and the auctioneer says, "Sold," you have bought your cow, goat, sheep or swine for $200.  It depends on who wants the animal as to how much it will sell for. You can expect to pay anywhere from $2.00 to $4.00 dollars a pound live weight for the animals that go through the auction. Prices for the 4-H auction closely follow market prices for homegrown meat.  

5. How many 4-H’ers typically participate and how many animals will be at the Auction? 

On average, the N.H. 4-H Livestock Sale & Auction attracts 15 to 20 4-H participants each year. The average number of animals sold is 20.   

6. Is there a price difference when purchasing animals that win ribbons/awards at the fair? Will I be bid up considerably? Is winning an award based on quality of the meat and how the animal was raised?  

Market animals are judged on their readiness to be processed that day. A blue-ribbon animal means that the animal is ready to be processed the day of the sale. A red ribbon animal usually means that it needs a few more weeks of growth before being processed. A part of the 4-H market animal project is marketing and buyer recruitment.  4-H members are expected to market their animals and are encouraged to invite buyers for their animals to the auction.  If a 4-H member does a particularly good job bringing buyers to the auction, they could get more money for their animal than animals that placed above them.   

7. When thinking about buying meat in bulk, how much will I need in pounds for a family of 4?  

When cooking something like steak or a roast, where meat is the main feature of the meal and paired with a few side dishes, it is recommended about ½ pound (eight ounces) per person, up to ¾ (12 ounces) pound for bigger appetites and those who love leftovers. Use a calculator to help determine how much meat to buy. For boneless meat: ½ pound per person for adults and ¼ pound per person for children. Bone-in cuts yield close to 6 to 7 ounces of meat, sufficient for a single person.  

8. What is the typical amount in pounds that I can expect to purchase? Is there a way to factor the amount of meat on an animal based on how much the animal weighs?   

As a rule, most cattle will have an average dressing percentage of 63 percent. This means that a beef animal weighing 1,000 lbs will result in a carcass that weighs 630 lbs after slaughter. The amount of meat  yielded from a sheep can be calculated based on some approximations. The dressed or hanging weight is assumed to be around 50-52% of the live weight. About 70-72% of the carcass weight will end up as meat. On average, live weight of a lamb at auction will be 120 pounds. The amount of meat yielded from swine is about 57% in edible cuts. When you do the math, that’s about 154 pounds of meat from a 250-pound pig. A goat will yield between 40 – 50% in edible cuts or on average approximately 170 pounds of meat. 

9. What is the best way to store locally purchased meat bought in bulk?  

If you are buying meat in bulk, you should have a freezer to store it in.  

10. How much storage space do I need for a full animal. Can you recommend an amount of storage space based on pounds of meat?  

A beef animal will need at least 20 cubic feet of freezer space.  Plan on approximately one cubic foot of freezer space for every 15-20 pounds of meat. The interior of a milk crate is slightly more than a cubic foot. For a lamb, you will need 2 cube feet of freezer space. A whole lamb pack is approximately 67.5 pounds and will take up around 3.5 cube feet of freezer space. Plan to have 1 cubic foot of freezer space for every 15 pounds of pork. A small 7 cube foot freezer works great for a whole pig with extra room for chickens, fruit and veggies. Half a pig will fit in a standard freezer compartment.  For a goat, the rule of thumb is 50 pounds of meat will fit in 2.25 cube feet of freezer space.  

11. How long can I use frozen meat before it’s unsafe to do so? 6 Months? A Year?  

According to the FDA, you can keep cuts, like roasts, frozen for anywhere from 4 to 12 months and steaks for 6 to 12 months. Lamb or Pork Chops from 4 to 12 months. Ground beef should be frozen for no more than three to four months. Once cooked, you can also safely freeze those beefy leftovers.  If kept longer it is still good but might lose some flavor.   

12. What kind of cuts can I request from the processor? How do I know that the animal will be treated humanely?  

The processer will give you a chart and explain the different cuts you can get from your animal.  You can check to see if a processor is USDA certified to ensure that are following all established federal rules and regulations.  

13. How is the meat packaged when I receive it from the processor?  

When you pick up your meat it will come to you frozen, each package marked with what it is and ready to go in your freezer. You tell the processer when you talk to him or her what cuts and size packages you want. Example:  for a five-pound roast, one-pound packages of hamburger or sausage, four lamb, goat, or pork chops, etc.    

14. Does local meat taste better than store-bought meats? Will it lose freshness over the months of storage? 

Most everyone says it does. It is nice to know how it was raised and what it was feed. Yes, it can lose it freshness if kept for over a year.   

15. Can the processor store any of my meat for me or must I take possession of all the meat after the processor finishes their job? 

This is a question you would have to ask the person you have chosen to process your animal.  

16. What should I do if I feel bad about seeing the live animal at the Auction? 

Two things to think about is that all meat comes from a living animal that was raised for food. All the animals at the auction were raised to be sold at the auction. If you feel this way and want to buy an animal at the auction you can send in a bid and someone at the auction can buy the animal for you. Then you can talk to one of the processes who will be at the event, and they will take it from the auction and call you to pick up your meat ready to put in your freezer.   

17. Do I have to take possession of the animal after the Auction?

Yes, once you have bought the animal it is yours. 4-H members will help you load the animal if you want to take it home. If you would like one of the processers who is at the auction to take the animal for you, the 4-H members and auction committee will help you make the agreements.  

18. What types of animals are at the Auction?

4-H’ers raise swine, beef, sheep, and goats to be sold at the auction. In some cases, the beef animals are feeder steers, which means they need between 6 to 8 more months to grow before they are ready to be processed. 

19. Is it possible to purchase part of an animal rather than the whole thing? What if I want some beef, some pork, etc.? 

In this case you may want to go in with a few friends to buy an animal or two. You might want to talk to one of the processors who usually buys some animals and decide with them to buy some meat. Most have stores that they sell their meat at.  

20. Should I be concerned about losing power and losing my meat if it’s frozen?

This could always be a problem.  However today most folks do not lose their power for more than a day and if you do not open your freezer, you should be all set.  Most families that do have a problem with lost of power for a long time have a generator.   

21. Do I have to contact a processor before the auction? If so, is there a list of processors in N.H.?

The auction committee can help you find a processor. If you have your own, you do need to make a date well in advance.  

22. Is it difficult for 4-H'ers to give up their animals for food?

It can be. Youth who raise beef animals have taken care of them for over a year. Those who raise goats, sheep or swine have them for six to eight months. In most cases, youth have done this for a while, and they raise both breeding and market animals. They are used to supplying their family and others with fresh meat.

Author(s)

Michelle Bersaw-Robblee
4-H Youth Development and 4-H Horticulture Field Specialist
Asst Field Specialist
Phone: (603) 796-2151 ext. 317
Office: Cooperative Extension, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824