In July and August, many counties have agricultural fairs. Such is the case in Indiana. Young folks and adults can enter the fair competition in different categories: foods, art, sewing, animals, and more. This article focuses on showing animals at the fair. Never having entered an animal in fair competition, I thought it best to talk with those who had.
Parker is eleven, and this year was his first. He participated in a category called “Showmanship.” Not having a pig himself, he borrowed one from his cousin. To prepare for the showing, he had to practice at home walking the pig. To get the pig to go where he wants it to go, he uses a stick to tap it on the neck. At the fair, Parker takes his pig into an arena where he walks it around a ring, with the goal being to keep the pig between himself and the judges, who decide if the pig is walking where and how it is supposed to walk.
When asked, Parker commented, “It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, once the pig was in the arena where all the other pigs were!” Parker earned a participation ribbon this year and plans to enter again next year. Much appreciation to Shelly, who allowed me to interview her son, Parker.
Drew and Kane are experienced at entering animals in the fair. Drew is fifteen now and showed his first pig when he was in third grade. He has also shown sheep, goats, and rabbits. I was curious about the whole process and asked him where he got his animals and how old they were.
Drew said they buy their animals from farmers and neighbors around March, and the pigs, sheep, and goats are about four months old when they get them. They get rabbits from a breeder when they are very young.
I also wanted to know about the whole process for getting the animal ready for the fair. He said that the animals are taken in to the fairgrounds to the Fair Council around April, and a tag is put on the animal’s ear for identification purposes. This is so there cannot be any switching of an animal later.
At home, he feeds and waters the pigs, sheep, and goats daily, clips their hooves with a cutter that resembles a big pair of pliers, teaches them to walk beside him and to stand still. He said he has to be careful when trimming their hooves not to get into the quick. It hurts, and the animals will jerk away. Tying the animals first is helpful when trimming their hooves so they cannot run away. “It isn’t an easy job,” Drew said. He has to clip the rabbits’ toenails, too, which is kind of like cutting a dog or cat’s toenails.
“Teaching them to walk beside you is a challenge,” Drew continued, “especially with sheep. “ He explained that you have to put a halter over their head and pull. Sometimes you need someone behind the sheep to push. Getting them to stand still is done by stopping and holding tightly onto the halter strap. Sheep seem to be the most difficult to train. The goats learn to walk beside you much more quickly and with less pulling on the halter or pushing from behind. Pigs are trained to walk around in a circle by tapping on their neck with a stick. At the fair, you cannot use the halter with the sheep or goats. The animals must just walk with you. In the case of sheep and goats, pulling on their head to get them started is what is done. The pigs respond to the stick.
Before the animals are shown, they also have to be spiffied up! There is a washing area at the fair with a hose and scrub brushes. The pigs, sheep, and goats can all be washed there. The sheep must also be shorn (which they don’t seem to like!), and the pigs have to be shaved all over! That is done with electric clippers, and some pigs even lie down and expose their bellies for the shaving. They seem to really like the feel of the clippers on their skin.
During the showing for pigs, sheep, and goats, the judges look for the size of the animal, how much meat it has, its height, and overall appearance along with how the animal walks beside its owner in a circle around the arena. Rabbits are taken in their cages to a judging area. Judges look at the texture of their coats, how many toenails they have (supposed to have five on the front feet and four on the back feet), and at their teeth—how straight they are and how big they are. Rabbits should have 28-32 teeth. Drew said rabbits do not like this teeth check at all!
Animals are taken to the fair the day before their judging. They stay in pens in a huge building. Owners often stay with their animals until bedtime and then go home to sleep. Some owners get special permission to sleep in the building with their animals. Electric fans are used to help the animals stay as cool as possible.
After raising an animal and caring for it and taking it to the fair for judging, there comes Sale Day. Animals are shown again by their owners, and buyers bid by the pound as at an auction. The animals are then left at the fair for the buyers. I asked Drew if it was hard to leave the animals there. He said that it was very hard when he was younger, but that he has gotten more accustomed to it through the years.
Kane is twelve years old. He showed his first goat when he was seven. He showed three goats this year and a pig. He got his goats from a farmer back in March, fed and watered them daily, including giving them hay. Kane says it is really fun to take care of his animals, and says the goats are gentle. He also said it wasn’t hard to teach them to walk with him. Girl goats are the easiest because the boy goats have horns, and they can turn around and butt you with them and leave bruises! He did mention that with stubborn goats, he has to pull harder on the halter and may even need someone behind to smack them on their butts! In getting the goats ready for the fair, he has to trim them with electric clippers, leaving them with a short hair cut (not bald or with a burr, just short!)
Last year, Kane went out to feed his animals, and two of his goats and his pig had died. He had only one animal left to enter in the fair that year because there can’t be any changes after the animals are ear tagged. That was a sad time for Kane.
I asked Kane if he had any stories to tell about the fair. He said that one year, his goat head butted him and ran away across the arena. The judges helped him get the goat back, and he had to walk him around the ring again.
Kane likes to name his animals and treats them as if they are pets. This year, his pig was named Porky, his girl goat was Sis, and his boy goats were Stewie and Spotty. He said Sale Day is still difficult for him. Rabbits are not usually sold and go back home with their owners.
Both of Amy’s sons have earned Grand Champion or Reserve Grand Champion ribbons in addition to first, second, third, etc. ribbons at the county fair. They plan to enter animals again in 2011. Many thanks to Amy for allowing me to interview her sons.