During the second week of November last year, while most of the Flathead Valley was hunkered down, waiting out the first big snowstorm of the season, the Stolfus family was building a pen for two 700-pound steers that would arrive at any moment.
Marcia Stolfus, who had no prior experience raising livestock, and her husband, Mike, made the decision last fall to sell their home in Stillwater Estates and move to West Valley after their two oldest daughters, Hannah, a sophomore at Glacier High, and Gracie, an eighth-grader at West Valley, became more involved in 4-H.
“We recognized how much responsibility, patience and perseverance our girls were learning from their first years in 4-H, so when they wanted to make the jump to larger animals and participate in the livestock sale, we just felt it was important to give them the best space to learn as much as possible,” Marcia said.
Hannah and Gracie both have shown smaller animals, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, at the Northwest Montana Fair, but this is the first time they’ve been working with larger animals and will be selling them on the Saturday of the fair in the 4-H and FFA Market Livestock Sale.
Hannah, who will be showing a steer named Mater, has been working with him every day since those frigid snowstorms last fall. She started with the most basic step of getting Mater accustomed to having a halter and lead-rope on, and has since worked with him so much that he now walks right next to her, stands in a particular way, and is used to being bathed, clipped, brushed, and prepared for the sale ring.
The younger Stolfus sister, Gracie, is showing a hog named Louie this year.
“Gracie has always had such a gentle soul, so when she said she wanted to raise and sell an animal for the fair this year, we were a little taken aback,” her mom said.
To Gracie, though, she saw participating in the sale as a unique way she could earn money to put away. In addition to being in 4-H, Gracie is also an accomplished gymnast and trains at Flathead Gymnastics Academy more than 20 hours each week. Between her schoolwork, gymnastics training schedule, participating in her school band, and only being 13 years old, a part-time job has largely been out of the question.
Gracie explained her decision and said, “I want to do a medical mission trip when I get older and I also want to save money to go to college.” Seeing what her older sister was taking part in, Gracie realized selling an animal this year was the perfect way she could make a few hundred extra dollars to save away for her future.
The girls admit they are both a little nervous about the sale day, where their animals will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. They’ve tried their best not to get too attached to their animals, but working with one for that amount of time is bound to foster even a small relationship.
With sale day at hand, the two girls keep thinking about the impact they’ll be making in the community, rather than saying goodbye to Mater and Louie.
“It’s so cool to think we’ll be able to provide meals for people who probably couldn’t just go to the grocery store and buy something for dinner,” said Hannah.
On sale day, many of the businesses and individuals who purchase animals choose to give back to the community in their own way by donating all or a portion of the animal to an organization such as the Samaritan House, Northwest Montana Veterans Food Pantry, Sparrow’s Nest, or other place that serves residents of the Flathead Valley.
“From the start of this whole process, there has been such an incredible sense of community that we can’t begin to describe,” Marcia said. “To all of the 4-H and FFA leaders who help kids like ours pick out animals, learn to raise them and teach them this huge amount of responsibility, through the end of the sale where the meat feeds people in need, the whole process truly is incredible.”
Kate Lufkin is the marketing and communications manager of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce.