County fair memories

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County fairs have always been a reason to celebrate and showcase local agriculture. My grandmother was in 4-H, my mom was in 4-H, I was in 4-H, and I can’t wait until my children are old enough to join 4-H. 

I was in 4-H for 11 years and loved every minute. My last year in 4-H, I had 22 non-livestock projects and six dairy animals. The year prior, when my older brother was still in 4-H as well, our family brought just over 20 dairy cattle to the fair, plus a few pigs and chickens, and my brothers showed beef cattle. We all looked forward to county fair week. 

It was hands down the busiest, longest, craziest week of the entire year for our family. While it was an entire week of late nights finishing up projects or washing a load of our show white clothes at midnight, we looked forward to it every year. 

My home county fair had a good variety of almost every species of animal. It was common to have six, sometimes seven, different breeds of dairy cattle. I can remember that Friday morning was always the 4-H dairy show, and Saturday morning was the open class dairy show. 

We would go home Friday night, help with chores and milk the cows, bring more feed for the show animals at the fair and drive the 22 miles back to the fair. We would feed and water the animals and milk the milking cows one more time and check on everything, oftentimes staying until 10:30 p.m. After watering the animals one more time, we would drive the 22 miles back home – only to wake up bright and early the next day to do it all over again. One would think that cattle surrounded by freshly fluffed straw could manage to stay clean for 12 hours, but alas, this was never the case. Each morning we would have to start washing the animals right away to get them clean and dry by show time at 9 a.m. The next day was the open class show, and almost the exact same dance commenced. We were off and running all day long once again.

Our cattle did not have the top-of-the-line genetics, the fancy show feed or the special hairsprays like some of the other kids, but come time to enter the show ring, we would smile and walk gracefully and proudly next to our animals as we all paraded around the ring. 

As soon as one class was done, we would go back to our show string and start getting the next one ready. My mom would help us as we all worked together, getting the animals up and show ready and taking pictures of each other in the show ring. Since there were four of us siblings and we each had multiple animals, we had an animal in most of the dairy classes for Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss and crossbreds. The only break we got was when it came time for the Guernsey, Ayrshire and Milking Shorthorn classes. 

Our enjoyment of 4-H and county fairs rubbed off on our extended family as well. 

I have three cousins who grew up in the Twin Cities area, but my uncle would bring them to our farm almost every other weekend from the time they were 2 years old until they graduated from high school. By that time, they were driving to our farm themselves. They still come to our farm to visit and to help with chores now and then, even though they have jobs of their own. 

For several years, my cousins joined our 4-H club, leased cattle from us and showed our animals. They too would practice every time they would come to our farm and would look forward to county fair week. They even went to the state fair a couple of times. They would share stories with their friends at school about showing cows, and their friends would be amazed that one could wash, clip and lead a cow around like it was in a beauty pageant. My cousins would sometimes have to show pictures as proof that this was indeed a real thing. 

My brothers and I would continue to help show in the open class show. We all showed until the youngest cousin graduated from 4-H in 2021. By then, we had showed for more than 20 years at our county fair. A couple of us had gotten married by this point and were raising kids of our own. 

While we take a couple of years off from washing and clipping cattle to raise our families, we look back fondly at those busy, long, crazy few days during the county fair. 

So, to all of you 4-H’ers, FFA’ers and parents, good luck at your county fair and remember to have fun. 


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