CENTRAL POINT — Two lambs met their maker minutes ago with the help of a local butcher.

CENTRAL POINT — Two lambs met their maker minutes ago with the help of a local butcher.

But just a few feet from the kill site at the Future Farmers of America Land Lab, Rebecca D'Inzillo, 18, and her 11-year-old sister Danielle serenely shampoo their two steers, animals also bound for the freezer after this week's Jackson County Fair.

"I don't care about it being eaten," Danielle says.

"People have to eat," Rebecca adds.

It's a reality members of local 4-H clubs accept at an early age. Once their animals are shown, judged and auctioned off, they'll become food for buyers. Although already popular with some 1,000 people attending each day, the livestock auction is an ideal place for networking with suppliers of locally raised beef, pork and lamb, 4-H families say.

"The fair's a good place to start," says the girls' mother, Donna D'Inzillo, of Central Point.

Last year's fair auction saw the sale of 120 steers, 249 pigs and 227 lambs. But for almost every animal brought to fair, another one stayed home. Raised as an insurance policy on an entire season's work, "back-up" animals only represent another mouth to feed once the fair is over. Most kids want to be rid of these understudies as quickly as possible and typically sell them for a fraction of the price their counterparts fetch, D'Inzillo says.

While 4-H beef sold for an average price of $3.37 per pound at last year's fair; swine for $4.59 per pound, market prices were 86 cents and 50 cents respectively. Purchasing a locally raised animal may seem like quite an investment up front, but consumers save considerably on prime cuts, says Tracie Dulany, a 4-H advisor, rancher and employee of The Butcher Shop in Eagle Point.

"I don't like to buy meat at the grocery store simply because of the cost," Dulany says.

Dulany's family purchased Rebecca D'Inzillo's fair steer last year and took home about 550 pounds of beef. She and her parents split the cost and the meat with her sister's family of three, a strategy that has wide appeal.

"Sometimes, you have to try it once and see how it works for your family," Dulany says.

Most buyers of lambs the Dulanys raise have a standing order every year. But their ranching business and others around the valley are attracting a new breed of customer that cares more about sustainably produced, "clean" meat, Dulany says. "Most of 'em, they like it because they know how it was raised."

For reasons of cost and efficiency, 4-H performs no testing on animals brought to fair. But the group's members agree to comply with U.S. Department of Agriculture rules stating that the animal is in good health and its meat is free of chemical residue, says Anne Manlove, 4-H agent at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point. If any substances unfit for human consumption were detected in the meat, the carcass could be condemned and its seller would forfeit their money, Manlove adds.

"We want to provide a product that's safe for consumers."

Most 4-H animals are purchased, however, out of sheer philanthropy, not for their value as food, Manlove says. Supporting local youth is the primary goal of so many auction-goers, including Jackson County Expo Director Chris Borovansky, who says he has purchased livestock for the past 20 years. Flavor is an added bonus.

"I like to think that the animals you get locally taste a little better," Borovansky says.

It's a fact not lost on 4-H families like the D'Inzillos.

"We ask our buyers 'How was it?' " Donna D'Inzillo says. "They're spending good money."

That Dulany's family, which used to raise its own beef, chose Rebecca's steer last year was no small compliment.

"She said he was the best steer she ever ate," Rebecca says. "So that kind of makes you feel good."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.