Making the fairest memories

Gerhardt family revels in Clark County Fair

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NEILLSVILLE, Wis. – Each August, the Gerhardt family packs up their tack and a few animals and heads to what will become their home-away-from-home for a week: the Clark County Fairgrounds in Neillsville.
“We have so many good memories from so many years coming to the fair,” Amy Gerhardt said. “It’s a good experience for these kids, and I know some day when they are my age they will look back on these times with a smile.”
Marty and Amy Gerhardt, and their children – Dawson, 20, Emily, 14, and Brady, 12 – farm near Neillsville with Amy’s parents, Richard and Debbie Vine, where they milk 200 Holsteins and Ayrshires.
This year, the Gerhardt family took nine head of dairy cattle to the fair Aug. 10-14. Emily and Brady also show pigs.
Amy’s brother, Travis, and his wife, Ashley, along with their oldest daughter, Iris, have joined in with the family’s annual caravan to the fair. Both Amy and Travis spent their childhoods showing at the fair.
“You learn so much showing animals at the fair,” Travis said. “There are so many life lessons you can learn, and it is a good way for these kids to all learn to work together.”
Shepherding youth to work together comes naturally for Amy, who has spent 25 years as an agricultural teacher.  Emily said that is how 12-year-old Abby Backaus came to join the Gerhardts’ fair family.
“A couple of years ago, Abby kept coming around at milking time,” Emily said. “She always wanted to lead the cows to the parlor and help milk.”
For the second year, Abby has exhibited the Gerhardts’ animals alongside the rest of the family.
“It is a lot of hard work, but it is also a lot of fun,” Abby said. “I like to work with all the animals and get the chance to show them.”    
One of the Gerhardts’ favorite cows is a lifelong attendee as well. Their 3-year-old Ayrshire cow, named Sunset, has been at the fair every year of her life with the exception of 2020 when the Clark County Fair was canceled. Sunset had another successful year this year, claiming grand champion in the youth show and reserve grand champion honors during the fair’s open dairy show.
“Sunset is the first cow I have progressed with this long,” Emily said. “I first showed her as a spring calf in 2019. She is my favorite show cow.”
The Gerhardts have always enjoyed showing their Ayrshire cows at the fair, and many of the family’s fondest memories revolve around an Ayrshire cow the family called Princess, although her name was actually Chips Ahoy.
“Princess was grand champion of both the youth and open shows,” Amy said. “Dawson showed her, and it was his last year in 4-H. Marty cried when she won. When she was out for supreme champion, I was sitting in the bleachers watching, and a Holstein breeder sitting behind me said, ‘That Ayrshire is nothing to sneeze at either.’ That just made my day to hear someone say that about her.”
Marty and Dawson said that was their fondest fair memory.
“She knew she was special; she walked like a princess,” Dawson said. “That’s how she got her nickname.”
Not to be left out, Amy said Marty brought his own cow to the fair for the open show.
“No one leads her but Marty,” she said. “She was our first registered Holstein in a long time. I won her as a calf in the Wisconsin Holstein Association calf raffle. It was the first year I took Emily and Brady to the junior Holstein convention. I kept joking I was going to win the calf, and then I did.”
The methodical process of preparing animals for the show ring is what Marty most enjoys about exhibiting at the fair.
“I enjoy the process of getting the animals ready for the show ring; everything you do to make them look their best,” Marty said. “I didn’t grow up showing. I started doing it after I met Amy. I grew up in Baldwin and knew kids that showed at the fair and always wished I could.”
Marty has been spending time teaching the kids how to clip their animals. Iris said she likes the satisfaction of getting ribbons at the fair.
“I like seeing how the hard work pays off in the end,” she said.
Not growing up on a farm, Iris’ mother, Ashley, is amazed at the life lessons her daughter is able to learn in the barn.
“I grew up outside of Chicago,” Ashley said. “I like the fact that Iris can develop a relationship with an animal and bring her back to the fair each year. She can really watch that hard work pay off and learn the value of it.”
Brady enjoys participating in the dairy show with his family but said he has found his passion in the swine barn.
“I really like working with the pigs,” Brady said. “This is the third year I have shown pigs. I like being able to sell them in the livestock auction.”
For Amy and Marty, the most important part of the fair is indeed the memories being made and their ability to enjoy the fair as a family.
“I feel very lucky that I have my husband here to help take care of everything,” Amy said. “We can take turns going up to the show ring to watch or staying back in the barn to keep everything clean. If it were just one of us taking the time to be here, we would both miss out on that.”

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