Record setters | Southeast Iowa Union

Washington County family sets state fair records

Avery Shalla beams as the auctioneer sounds off with higher and higher bids at the Iowa State Fair Sale of Champions (Photo submitted)

From left, Nic, Jayna, Parker, Avery, Mason and Ryland Shalla pose for a photo with their winning steers and plenty of awards to show for their efforts. This photo was taken before the auction, thus the smaller check. (photo submitted)

Participants, family and friends from the Iowa State Fair Sale of Champions gather at the backdrop behind Avery Shalla, after her steer set the all-time record for an animal sold at the auction, a jaw-dropping $135,500. (Photo submitted)

Parker (left) and Mason Shalla go back and forth with hay for their cows on the family farm in Riverside. The kids said they formed a bond with the animals, despite knowing they would eventually be sold at auction. (Kalen McCain/The Union)

The Shallas are no strangers to showmanship. This shelf in their show barn is one of several in a room lined with awards. (Kalen McCain/The Union)

The Shalla family raises their cows with a pasture in rural Riverside. The animals are often kept in cooling rooms for warm weather, a practice the family said helped grow out the animals’ hair. (Kalen McCain/The Union)

RIVERSIDE — Auctioneer Al Conover opened the Iowa State Fair Sale of Champions this year expecting to be impressed.

“With your support today, I predict we can see several records broken,” he said. “The fair and the enthusiasm tells me that it can happen.”

He was immediately proven right by the first animal in the auction, Avery Shalla’s grand champion steer.

Enthusiastically hollered bids from around the room finally slowed and eventually stopped at a record price not only for steers, but for any animal sold in the fair’s 130-year history: an eye-popping $135,500, for a rate of $100 a pound. The sum made up over a fourth of the money spent at the 16-animal auction, according to a news release from the fair board.

“It felt really cool, it was pretty special,” Avery Shalla said. “They start the sale and you get kind of nervous, because you want them to sell for a lot. It was really cool, we went over to the buyer and thanked him and everything.”

Before the auction even began, the Shallas had already made waves by winning Divisions 1, 2 and 3 of the steer show alongside the grand champion spot, yet another feat never before accomplished by one family at the fair.

It takes an unimaginable amount of work to pull off that kind of hat trick. The Shalla kids spend hours and hours with their animals on the farm every day.

The timing revolves around a focus on temperature control, which the Shallas said helped grow out the cows’ hair for shows.

A typical summer day involves getting the animals up at 5 a.m., washing them for a total of around three hours, returning in the afternoon for another, four-hour wash, and letting them out for exercise and food around 11 p.m., a mix of duties shared by the four 4-H’ers, Parker, Avery, Mason and Ryland Shalla.

Timing is everything, and the kids can’t skip a day.

“You have to focus on just that one thing, you can’t have multiple things going on,” Avery Shalla said. “I just had to revolve my full summer around it, working with the steer, getting him how he needs to look.”

The Shalla kids said they opted into 4-H, rather than being made to go by their parents. Avery Shalla said it was rewarding.

“When you spend all that time, it’s an amazing feeling knowing all your hard work is finally paid off,” she said. “And it’s really fun, all the people I meet, and all the kids I meet are just amazing, I know I’m going to be friends with them for a long time.”

The current high school senior plans to remain involved with livestock after graduating, with an accepted application to the animal chiropractic program at Iowa State.

“In the show industry, it’s becoming a more needed thing, large animal chiropractors, especially on pigs and goats,” she said. “They’ll pop their hip or shoulder out of place, and a chiropractor will have to work on that.”

Parker Shalla — youngest sibling and showman of the winning Division I crossbred steer — said he shared his sister’s passion about the activity.

“Showing 4-H is probably the biggest part of our family life,” he said. “My calf, he’s really important to me. And the show barn, I (basically) live in it, because I’m up here working with him all the time.”

This year was Parker’s first time exhibiting at the state level. He said it felt different from the county competition.

“The State Fair’s a little more stressful,” he said. “It’s bigger, more competition for your classes, bigger everything. It kind of puts a little more stress on you. The Washington County Fair is a smaller show.”

Jayna Shalla, their mother, said she appreciated 4-H’s family element. While the kids have to take care of their animals themselves, the activity often calls for all hands on deck.

“There’s not a lot left in the world that you do as a family,” she said. “Sports are great, but a lot of times mom and dad and the siblings are sitting in the bleachers, and there’s only one person in the family involved. I think it’s neat that every day you’re up here working hard, but you’re together. And not a lot of siblings spend this much time together. They’re together all day, every day.”

It’s a drastic understatement to say the six-digit check exceeds the market rate for a steer. While the fair’s auction price is hardly a reasonable expectation for the ag industry, Jayna Shalla said she was happy to see so much support for the kids, with a 25% cut of every sale going back to the Iowa Foundation For Agricultural Advancement.

“They’re donating it, pretty much, for the kids,” she said. “It’s going back for scholarships, and it’s a good cause, I think it’s pretty neat.”

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