Livestock Show at the Skagit Valley Fairgrounds

The first weekend in June brought a large gathering of FFA and 4-H to the Skagit Valley Fairgrounds for the Puget Sound Jr. Livestock Show. This show is primarily a competition amongst these young people to raise the prized animal with the best “finishing” characteristics. Finishing as in – right before slaughter. Numerous large belt buckles adorned the waists of many of the kids that were awarded from past competition wins. The show and competition took place on the first Friday in June and the auction took place the next day.
This was my second time photographing a livestock show and this particular one felt like a tightly knit community as compared with the larger one that took place in the previous month in Puyallup.

On the Friday during the show and competition I spent a little time talking with Gunner DeKoster who is part of the Lynden Christian FFA in northwest Washington. He was in a grassy patch just behind one of the barns getting ready to compete later that afternoon. He told me that he prefers raising cows to pigs because “you form a better friendship”. He described putting close to a year of his time into raising this particular cow #457.

At the same time that the cattle were getting shown there were competitions for pigs, goats, sheep and chickens in different parts of the fairgrounds. I talked with many people at the fairgrounds during the two days I spent there, and everyone agreed that the pigs were the most unpredictable because they are easily the most stubborn animals. This usually causes a bit of commotion when moving the animals from their enclosures to the competition areas. Chickens and sheep are (generally speaking) much more likely to cooperate with their owners.

A few years back, when living in Arizona, my wife and I went to a dog show at the small convention center in the town we lived in. I remember the dog owners looked just as put together as their prized animals – hair done up with nice clothes kind of stuff albeit a little more formal than the livestock show. I couldn’t help but feel like I was back at the dog show when I was watching the care that went into grooming the goats and sheep. This was a very obvious part of winning the competition. Cans of hair conditioner and shine were applied to just about every sheep in eyesight.

During the Saturday auction, the main barn was arranged with additional gates to create an entrance and exit for the animals and their owners. In the months leading up to the show, many of the kids asked around their communities (to people and businesses) for people to come and support them and their animals by making bids at the auction.
Towards the end of the day, after all of the animals had been sold, I was photographing the process of loading the animals onto the trailers to their new owners and soon-to-be destiny of the slaughterhouse. It was at this point that the closely knit community became exactly that. During the loading of the animals onto the transport trailers, I was asked by one of the organizers to stop taking pictures. I realize these people are trying to protect a way of life which I greatly respect. I also realize that the animals that were raised and sold were under the absolute best conditions – truly pasture raised (this is a fact).
The end of the auction means a payoff for months of hard work, and the absolute end of the life expectancy of the animals – which nobody wanted me to photograph.

Author

  • Ryder Collins

    I am a photographer living in Seattle Washington that is in love with photographing those fleeting surprise moments. I have always been a people watcher, and when I picked up a camera for the first time my natural inclination was to go out on the street and photograph people. I've always been attracted to photographing the emotions of people and the oftentimes absurd nature of the human experience. At this point I am becoming most interested in visual storytelling through documentary style photography. My current work involves documenting the people of Seattle - how they live, find excitement and resiliency in this city that feels equal parts anxiety and hope.

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