You Can Buy a Live Cow at the Alameda County Fair, But It Arrives as 800lbs of Steak

Most people attend the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, California to eat corndogs, ride carnival rides, and perhaps catch a show.

But true to its agricultural origins, you can still buy a cow at the Alameda County Fair. 

There’s a catch, though. It will arrive in the form of steaks. Eight hundred pounds of them.

The Livestock Barn

Tucked into a barn in the Red section of the fair is an exhibit that most visitors probably miss.

The junior livestock exhibits feature prize-winning “projects” (read: animals) raised by local junior farmers. There are goats, turkeys, sheep (pictured above) swine, and cattle.

These youths feed and care for their animals all year. The best animals win their owners scholarships and prizes worth up to $1000.

These kinds of displays and contests are a time honored tradition embraced by many rural communities for generations.

The Auction

It’s not just about showing the animals, though. At the end of the event, visitors to the fair have an opportunity to actively participate.

On the last day of the fair, the Junior Livestock Auction sells off these prize winning creatures to the highest bidder.

That’s right: if you show up on the last day of the fair (or place a bid through a proxy system) you can leave the fair with your very own goat, sheep or cow.

Most bidders aren’t seeking a new pet, though. As the official guide to the auction makes clear, most of these animals are bound for the table.

In particular, if you purchase a cow at the auction, the guide says that you’ll end up with an 1,000 to 1,350 pound live animal, which will “yield” about “600 to 800 pounds of processed meat consisting of: 8 T-Bone Steaks, 8 Porterhouse Steaks, 2-3 Filets, 8-10 Top Sirloins, 8-10 Sirloin Tips, 8-10 Rounds of Eye-of-Round Roast, 8-10 Rib Eye Roasts, 8-10 Chuck Steaks 8 Flank Steaks, 1 Brisket, 2 Chuck Roasts, 2 0-Bone Roasts, 2 Short Ribs, 2 Tri Tips, and 60 pounds of Ground Beef.”

That’s a lot of steak!

The guide gives some helpful ideas for how to use all that meat. You can “Put the top-quality wrapped pork, beef, lamb or goat in your freezer to enjoy year-round. If a whole animal is too much, split it with family and friends.”

Businesses can “present packaged meat to your customers, host a BBQ for employees, auction wrapped meat as a fundraiser, or serve quality meat in your restaurant or market.”

Turkeys are also on offer at the fair

People apparently often pay above market rates for the fair’s animals in order to support the junior farmers who compete.

It’s not immediately clear (at least to a city slicker like myself) whether you automatically receive your cow in steak form, or if you need to do the butchering yourself. Either way, prepare for a very large bbq!

Before you cry too hard for those cute piggies and cows, remember that raising animals for food is a daily aspect of rural life. These pampered animals are probably treated way better than the cows raised in packed, anonymous feed lots.

Unless you’re a vegan, in other words, you’re already involved in this food system.

So the next time you attend the fair, take a break from your fried Oreos and spend a moment visiting the ag barn. 

And maybe if you’re so inclined, walk away with some ground lamb or beef—a literal ton of it!

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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