Henry the lamb might just be the most expensive lamb in history.
After Maddy Thomas, an 11-year-old 4-H student from Echo, showed him at the Umatilla County Fair his sale brought in $23,200 — totaling about $162 per pound at an auction where lambs were averaging $7 per pound.
The auction marked the one-year anniversary of Maddy’s diagnosis of a brain tumor, and the money will go to help her family cover continuing expenses related to her treatment. Her mother Jenny Thomas said she doesn’t have words to describe how grateful she is for the “unbelievable” show of support.
“Anyone who has had a sick child knows the kind of bills that come, and I’ve had to miss a lot of work,” she said.
The lamb didn’t start out as a fundraiser idea. Maddy just wanted to participate in a “normal” activity after finally finding a cancer treatment that was working and regaining some of her strength. She got Henry in May and began walking him, feeding him and grooming him.
“I liked him because he liked to head butt me and he was always playful,” Maddy said. “I liked walking him around the house.”
Jenny said the exercise was so good for Maddy — using muscles she hadn’t used in months and giving her incentive to stay outdoors — that doctors told her she could drop her occupational and physical therapy. She lost some of the weight that steroids in her treatment had caused her to gain, and color returned to her cheeks.
“He gave her a purpose,” Jenny said.
When fair time came, Maddy brought her lamb to the barns with the other youth and enjoyed a week at the fair. Like all 4-H students, when the youth livestock auction rolled around on Saturday she found it bittersweet.
“It was hard saying goodbye,” she said.
Jenny said she had heard “rumblings” that community members at the auction were conspiring to make sure Maddy’s lamb went for a little extra, but she thought that meant $10 per pound. Instead, the price just kept rising as more people realized something special was happening and jumped in with bids of their own, then cheered on other bidders.
Both Jennie and livestock auction superintendent Marie Linnell described the atmosphere during the bidding as “electric.” Linnell said that even auctioneer Ford Bonney started choking up as he continued to take bids.
“It was like electricity was running through the air,” Linnell said. “The feeling there was incredible.”
The bidding ended at $50 per pound, but the fair also allows “add-ons” from people who didn’t win an animal but still want to contribute to the youth who raised it. The add-ons came pouring in, bumping it up to $78 per pound that day. First it was adults and businesses, then other Umatilla County 4-H and FFA youths started contributing a portion of their proceeds. Linnell said as of Thursday support is still trickling in, but the 143-pound market lamb has brought in $23,200 from more than 60 adults/businesses and 50 youth.
“We always say these 4-H and FFA kids are the cream of the crop,” Linnell said.
Henry the lamb went on to resale, and Maddy said she is already looking forward to raising another lamb next year.
“It was fun,” she said.
Meanwhile Jenny said the money raised from the sale (Linnell said the fair won’t be taking a commission off the top) will help the family with medical and travel expenses, and some will be put into a college fund for Maddy.
She said in an email that the family has “decent” medical insurance that covers a majority of Maddy’s medical bills — one three-week stay in the hospital earlier this year came out to $500,000. But they have high deductibles to meet each year and their premiums “skyrocketed” once they switched to coverage that would pay for more of those bills. At the same time, Maddy’s parents have had to miss a lot of work.
“We have been lifeflighted twice and ambulanced once from Kadlec to Seattle Children’s,” Jenny wrote. “Every time we travel we have fuel, food, and hotel costs as she gets too tired to make a one-day trip ... We live with the unknown and never know when we will have to pick up and stay in Seattle for an extended time.”
The small community of Echo has been “great” about raising money, she said. In February Eastern Oregon Family Taekwondo in Stanfield raised $4,534. But during lengthy cancer battles, Jenny said the fundraisers tend to dry up before the bills do, so the family is humbled and extremely grateful to get such a generous donation from the community a year after Maddy’s diagnosis. Maddy also said she wanted to thank everyone for their support.
Linnell said she has never seen anything like what happened on Saturday, but the community has always been extremely generous at the youth livestock auction in her 12 years as superintendent. With Maddy’s lamb, it was the highest grossing auction to date. Without factoring in Maddy’s lamb, it was the second highest at $480,750 on 251 lots.
Anyone who wants to add on a donation to Maddy’s lamb before the deadline next Friday can email Linnell at email@example.com or stop by the fair offices at the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.