Many county fairs have taken place already, and 4-H kids are getting excited to bring their animals or projects they have worked hard on all summer. They have been preparing for the state fair or planning their perfect champion project for next year. Our county fair is just getting started as I write this column which is a terrible time to be squeezing in a creative project like writing an article. I hope others will enjoy the column, but just like most of my 4-H projects growing up, there’s no motivation to get something done like it needing to be completed and in front of the judge the next morning. You certainly can’t wait until the last moment to work with animals but you can put off fitting them until pretty close to the last minute. Although, I strongly discourage that kind of procrastination.
    Growing up, the county fair projects I put the most time and effort into were, as you might guess, my dairy cattle but also a woodworking project and either chickens, pigs or sheep. If the fair runs a whole week, one better show multiple species so there is an excuse to spend every last minute of time your parents don’t need a hand with chores at the fair with 4-H friends. Some of my best friends in the farming world were made at the county and state fairs showing animals. I met my wife, Emily, showing chickens, of all things, so it was a pretty good use of time as a young man.
    My wife and I are obviously no longer fitting cattle or running pigs around dreaming of trips to the state fair, but our kids are. It’s so much fun watching them. Of course, like any 4-H parents, we are involved because that trailer load of cattle doesn’t get itself to the fair, and someone has to teach the next generation how to clip the perfect topline even if it takes years to master. Watching that process is so very frustrating when you could just grab the clippers yourself and knock it out in a couple minutes. Our oldest child is now 14. In a few years, that trailer load of cattle might not get there on its own, but he might be driving it instead of me. That prospect is sad, as I won’t need to be as involved, but at the same time will make me proud to see the kids growing into responsible young adults.
    One of my favorite parts of the county fair is watching my kids and the kids of all those 4-H’ers I grew up with learning the same life skills we did and making lifelong relationships of their own, even if they don’t know it now.
    There’s a lot to be learned when Mom and Dad step away and pretend to be busy talking with all the other adults or when they have to go home and do chores. Those skills just aren’t learned in the same way while being home at the farm when there are hundreds or more animals that need tending to and many people responsible for that. At the fair, those few animals the kids picked out as theirs are their responsibility. They get that first taste of knowing they really are the one who cares for those animals. They have to balance the desire to have fun with friends with the responsibility of feeding, watering and keeping their critters clean and happy, because a hungry and dirty cow sure isn’t going to win grand champion. Life really doesn’t change much no matter how many of them you someday are in charge of or how old you get. A happy animal is a profitable animal and one you can take pride in milking or taking to market.
    Here’s hoping you all had a wonderful time at your county fair if you are a 4-H’er or the parent of one. Maybe we’ll see you at the state fair. I should also mention FFA, although I never showed animals through FFA. It is another fine organization to build skills and relationships. Until next time, keep living the dream and shooting for that grand champion project.
    Tim Zweber farms with his wife Emily, their three children and his parents Jon and Lisa by Elko, Minnesota.