This time of year is when I usually go a little crazy. This year, not so much. I always seem to stress about the early spring preparation to ready animals to take to the fair. I usually manage well until the month prior to the fair when it is important the kids are ready for the walking, holding, posing and - don't forget - the smiling. This includes all show animals - sheep, goats, cattle, swine, rabbits, poultry and even pocket pets. And we can't forget about all the other fair projects we signed up for. I don't like to procrastinate, but the kids do. So, it always seems something still needs to be worked on before the check-in.
One of my twin daughters, Catherine, was no longer interested in showing her last year in Cambridge 4-H. She is busy working and having fun. She was always sensitive to the clipped hair from the heifers and goats, so that was out. She would get a rash and wouldn't be able to stop itching even after showering. Showing chickens and rabbits was great while it lasted, but times changed when her friends no longer showed. Showing pigs was wild. She would work with her pigs, walking and training them, but they always ran past her to get back to their pen when they were tired of the whip tapping them. This year she came to the fair to walk around, but was thankful to have declined when asked if she wanted to show this last year.
My other twin daughter, Anna, is interested in showing, but her college schedule was full and any spare time she had she devoted to rowing on the crew team. She is a youth 4-H leader and offered her heifer to a young man in our club to show. She also worked with five other kids getting animals ready from our herd. Anna is all about the washing, clipping, trimming and then doing it again and again. The group of them all worked hard walking and practicing, and they had a great time at the fair. She enjoyed being a mentor to all of them, and was able to say the right things at the right time to help them do their best.
To be able to show our animals, it is required for these kids to work with the heifers, along with participate in the chores that need to be done, too. Feeding calves, cleaning pens, sorting heifers, and switching cows during milking is always fun when it is done with others. They all left our farm tired, dirty, smelling of manure and what ever else they managed to get on them all while giggling and laughing with smiles on their faces.
Their parents thanked us continually for giving their child this experience and the responsibility that goes with showing animals. These adults never complained about the smell or the dirty laundry that came back into their homes. They smiled as the soaking wet kids got into the car, because it was so hot the water fight had to happen.
While Anna dealt with these kids in their heifer projects, the parents worked with them on their other projects. Photography, cake decorating, wood working, rocketry and sewing are just a few these kids also took to the fair. One member had chickens, two others had swine and one had sheep to prepare on their own. All projects had to be in by 1 p.m. on July 4.
This is the first year I didn't have to remind Anna and Catherine to do the finishing touches on their projects the night before. We didn't have to wander through the corn fields to find the three best corn plants, make a sheaf of wheat or open up many bales of hay to find the perfect slice to bring in to put on display. There weren't 50 cupcakes all over the kitchen table with the three best waiting on a plate, near the box with the flowers in vases, jars of jam, and the sewing and art projects in a laundry basket. This was a show year without chaos.
We only had to load up the straw, hay and shavings with the assistance from dairy project kids and parents. Then, it was easy to load up the heifers. Many hands helped with everything. The show box and the fitting stand were made by a couple of parents, and they delivered, supervised and supported the kids on their desire to want to show their animals.
Through all of this, these kids have claimed these heifers as theirs. They will be looking for these animals every time they come to our farm. The names they have chosen for their future calves will be what gets registered. They invested their own money in halters, and have taken literally thousands of photos of these heifers and posted them on every social media outlet. I love that these kids are cow crazy and proud to be a participant showing them.
I am thrilled to have supportive parents in our 4-H club and siblings to these kids willing to cheer them on in the stands, and give them a good job and verbal praise even though they were not at the top of the class. There are many ribbons given out at the fair, some are blue, red, white, pink, with a few purple and yellows, too. With all of the work done and it really isn't about the ribbons. They will sooner or later end up in a box in the closet. The best part of the fair is about spending time with others, having fun. They will remember the silly things that happen on barn duty or at the wash rack, the pizza eating contest and the friends made from other clubs. I am so glad I am involved in watching these kids grow and learn, and also to be witnessing the pride and love the parents show to their children as they walk in and out of the show ring. Truly, this is an honor, and I am looking forward to the future fairs with these kids and their families.
Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 120 registered Holsteins and farm 2,500 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wis. They have been hosting farm tours for over 18 years.