Andrew Riddle's lamb ultimately escaped the dinner table, but for a while things got pretty tense when a bidding war erupted at the annual Northern Gila County Livestock Show and Auction in Pine.
Riddle, a seventh-grader at Pine-Strawberry Elementary School, spent the past seven months raising J.D., the lamb for his 4-H project. Along the way, he broke the No. 1 rule of 4-H -- he got attached to the animal.
True to the nursery rhyme, the lamb followed Riddle and his younger brother to school each day -- or at least to the bus stop. That's how his neighbor, Marilyn Hamm, became involved.
"One morning I was getting my paper like at 7:00 at the bottom of my driveway and from a distance I saw two kids and a lady and I thought, ‘What kind of dog is that?'" Hamm recalled. "A few days later, I saw the kids with the lamb going by, so I went down the driveway and said, ‘Hi, guys.' They introduced me to J.D., and it was just so cute. They're terrific kids, and we kind of became friends."
Some time later when Riddle and J.D. were out for a walk, he asked Hamm if she knew anybody who would be interested in buying the lamb.
"He explained how J.D. was going to be auctioned off for meat," Hamm said.
Hamm called a friend in Mesa, who in turn, called a woman who operates a miniature petting zoo that she takes to birthday parties and other special occasions.
The zoo owner, Dee White, said she'd love to add J.D. to the zoo, so Hamm agreed to buy it. With the stage set, all that remained was the Sept. 13 auction.
That's where things got interesting.
In the competition that preceded the auction, Riddle and J.D. were flawless. The lamb was named grand champion.
Unfortunately that attracted the attention of Bashas', the supermarket chain that has long participated in 4-H livestock auctions and more often than not buys the grand champions.
The bidding started at $4 a pound, with Hamm expecting to pay somewhere around $6 a pound for J.D., who tipped the scales at 123 pounds on his big day. But with Bashas' bidding up the price, it soon became obvious that Hamm had a fight on her hands.
"I just kept glaring at him," Hamm said.
As the price passed the $6 mark and soared higher, Riddle began to get a little nervous.
"He was bidding against her and I didn't want him to buy J.D.," he said.
Hamm had promised him she would buy the lamb and she was prepared to keep her promise -- at any price. Before the cost escalated too high, the Bashas' representative finally got the point.
"One of my 4-H leaders told the Bashas' guy to knock it off," Riddle said.
When the gavel came down on the final bid, Hamm wound up paying $9.25 a pound or a total of $1,137.75 for J.D. The money goes to Riddle, but there are strict rules for its allocation according to his mother, Diane.
"He has to pay mom and dad back for the feed and has to put money back in his bank account for all the investment in the lamb," Riddle said. "Of the remainder, he gets to spend half and half goes in the bank for college."
Riddle estimates the amount he will have left to split will be about $675 -- not bad money for a 12-year-old's first 4-H project. But even more important is the new friend he gained in Hamm and the lesson he learned about neighbors helping neighbors.
On a bright, sunny Rim country day last week, the new owner came to pick up J.D. and take him to his new home in the Valley. While Andrew was sorry to see him go, he knows the outcome could have been a lot worse.
He says he's never tasted lamb. "And, I never will," he said emphatically.