With the clack of a wooden auctioneer's block, the 67th annual Youth Livestock Auction was underway at the State Fair of Texas today, with an eye towards surpassing last year's fundraising haul.
The bids for RFD, a 1,257 pound wheat-colored steer, quickly escalated - first $75,000, then $80,000 and $90,000.
Within a minute, last year's record of $112,000 for the Grand Champion Market Steer had been broken. And there was still more bidding to be done.
"You can't go buy one of these at Walmart," auctioneer Bill Hall said, pausing the action briefly to urge the bidders even higher.
By the time it was over, the final price had settled at $130,000, surpassing even the most optimistic expectations of the 300 people crowded into the swine barn at the fairgrounds this afternoon.
"I was shocked. I did not think I was going to get that much," said 15-year-old Laurel Kelley, who spent the last year raising RFD at her Yoakum home in southeast Texas. "I'm very thankful that it happened and I'm very thankful for the buyers."
The winning bid came from Dallas' III Forks steakhouse and its charity-oriented Big Tex Champions Club, the groups' third straight year coming away with the prize steer after paying $110,000 for Corndog in 2013 and $112,000 for Buzz in 2014.
"I had a number in mind and we sort of had a budget. You get excited and you want to win," John Harkey Jr., CEO of Consolidated Restaurant Operations, which owns III Forks and 115 other restaurants around the United States and the world. "It went for more than we expected but we're very proud to do it."
More than 250 steers, pigs, goats, lambs and chickens were auctioned off Friday afternoon, with proceeds going to the state fair's college scholarship fund, which has raised more than $20 million since 1990.
The auction was held at the swine barn instead of the usual Livestock Sales Pavilion, which was torn down to make room for the "state-of-the-art" Briscoe Carpenter Livestock Center set to open in 2016.
"(We're) literally putting lipstick on a pig, if you will" state fair president Mitchell Glieber said of the makeshift venue, which drew a standing-room only crowd. "Every fair this day is one the highlights."
RFD beat out 346 other steers to be crowned grand champion during Thursday's livestock competition. Judge Ryan Rathmann praised Kelley's 17-month old crossbred steer as "functional from the ground up."
"Just a good, practical steer," said Rathmann, an associate professor of animal and food science at Texas Tech University.
Kelley followed in the footsteps of her sister and her aunt, who have both raised grand champion steers in the past.
For her victory, Kelley will receive $30,000 - money she plans to use to study physical therapy at Texas A&M or Texas Tech - while RFD, which stands for Real Frickin' Deal, can look forward to a relaxing and long life at the Harkey Ranch in Katemcy, four hours southwest of Dallas.
"It's definitely bittersweet. I'm very happy that he's not going to get slaughtered...but I'm also going to miss him a lot," Kelley said of RFD, who she referred to as her "baby" after months of feeding, cleaning and caring for the steer. "Hopefully I'll get to go see him."