4-H steer fetches jaw-dropping price

Calf sells for $81,960 | Sale generates discussion and provides support for charities

The sale of a 4-H steer at a northern Alberta sale for $60 per pound still has livestock producers and 4-H members talking days after the event.


Troy Lorenson of TLL Oilfield Consulting of Edmonton paid $81,960 for the 1,366 lb. steer owned by junior 4-H member Ashlynn Trefenanko, 10, at the St. Paul and District Show and Sale June 2.


Barry Sallstrom, leader of the St. Paul 4-H Multi Club of which Trefenanko is a member, said the price paid for the calf was a “blip” in the sale. Prices averaged about $3.50 per lb. for the 70 calves, not including the top selling calf.


Members of the Trefenanko family declined to be interviewed. 


“It certainly is unique. You can’t control what buyers pay,” said Sallstrom of St. Paul.


“A lot of people were very surprised. There were a variety of emotions. Some people think it is good. Some people think it is not so good.”


Kevin Wirsta, project leader of the Elk Point Beef Club, whose members were also at the sale, said high prices and strong bidders at achievement day sales are always good.


“We really stirred up some excitement,” said Wirsta, who was also a bid taker at the sale.


Until the high-priced steer came into the ring, the prices bounced back and forth between $2.50 and $3.50 per pound.


“It was really rocking,” said Wirsta of Elk Point, Alta.


When Trefenanko’s calf came into the ring, the price quickly rose to $5 per lb. and then $12. 


“I was thinking, ‘This is real.’ Then it was bang, bang, bang and it hit $18,” said Wirsta.


The bidding stalled momentarily at $20 and then rocketed up to $42, where it slowed down before hitting $50. The bidding was off again until the winner finally bought the calf for $60 per lb.


Wirsta said Lorenson came “whooping and hollering” down the bleachers when he realized he bought the calf.


“Everyone in the crowd couldn’t believe it. It was great. There was a lot of enthusiasm,” said Wirsta.


Lorenson then donated the calf to the Haying in the 30s Cancer Support Society in Mallaig, Alta.


Wirsta praised the runner up bidders for the $60 a lb. calf, Ronco Oilfield Hauling of Medicine Hat, Alta., which paid $12.50 per lb. for a calf raised to support STARS air ambulance after missing out on the high priced calf.


“If he wouldn’t have been there, the STARS calf would only have brought half the price,” said Wirsta. 


Members of the Elk Point 4-H club raised the calf and sold it at the auction with the proceeds benefitting STARS air ambulance.


“In my mind, the guy who bought the STARS calf is the biggest hero. He’s keeping the helicopter in the air.”


A week before the sale, Wirsta and other leaders talked about the trend of higher prices for 4-H calves, like in the United States.


“I just know we’re heading in that direction. I know we’re going to be dealing with it.”


Some Future Farmers of America and 4-H steers in the United States sell for $600,000. The amount the seller gets is capped at $20,000 to $50,000, depending on the sale, and the rest goes into scholarship funds that members can apply for.


Wirsta said he would like to see similar scholarship funds established in Canada if prices paid for 4-H calves continue to rise.


While the high priced calf caught everyone’s attention, Sallstrom said it was a good sale overall.


“As far as a sale goes, it was very good for everyone involved.


“I want to thank all the buyers that were there, the buyers that come every year, the new buyers and the buyers that buy multiple calves. Without them we wouldn’t have a sale,” he said.


Maxine Fodness of St. Paul said she opposes the extreme high price paid for the 4-H calf.


“It is very, very upsetting. It negates everything 4-H is about.”


Fodness believes the average paid price of $3.50 per pound, about double the regular price of fat calves, is about right for 4-H steers. She said she used to buy 4-H steers, but prices have long gone out of her reach.


Brian Chomlak, an Alberta Beef Producers member, was surprised at the price paid. When he and his six siblings were in 4-H years ago, the proceeds of their calves paid the land taxes of the family farm and bought clothes for the family.


Cameron Horner, a 4-H specialist with Alberta Agriculture said the 4-H auctions are public events and there is no limit to the amount that can be paid for an animal.


“This is the exception, not the rule,” he said.


4-H steers sold during achievement day sales usually draw a premium, but this one was unusual. 


Horner said he hasn’t seen a similar price paid during his tenure with 4-H or during his time as a 4-H member. “This is a public auction. There were two people trying to buy it and it went really high,” said Horner.