4-H Fair Weekend Re-Cap
You may not be able to believe it, but in many spots around the country, summer vacation is winding down and kids are thinking about going back to school in a few weeks. Despite the bittersweet end to summer, however, there’s lots to look forward to in the coming months, including one of my favorite times of the year—fair season! In fact, many towns and counties around the country have already started hosting their annual 4-H county fairs and here in Connecticut, this past weekend brought the Tolland County 4-H Fair to town, a hit with families and locals every year! I serve as an advisor to the 4-H kids who organize this fair. I help to coordinate and run the goat show for this fair and have been involved for over 12 years (wow…I feel old typing that!), and this year was one of the best fairs I can remember.
Sunshine and summertime
Even though kids are thinking about school, it is still summer according to the weatherman, and this weekend was probably one of the best we’ve seen all year. The fair was open for business on Friday, which left us all feeling nervous because it rained—no, poured—all day long. However, we still managed to host a decent amount of people, including a large group of local daycare children who were given a tour of the fair, a snack and small goody to take home. The kids got to check out the many animals on the fairgrounds, including beef and dairy cows, pigs, goats, sheep, alpacas, chickens, rabbits and more! With rain still falling on Friday night, we were all hoping that the weatherman would be proven right and the sun would come out for the rest of the weekend. When Saturday morning rolled around, we were greeted with blue skies, high 70s and a cool breeze right through until the close of the fair on Sunday afternoon. It’s been a joke for as long as I can remember that the weather for this particular fair is always horrible but in all the years I’ve been involved, this was definitely the best weekend I’ve seen.
Saturdays are the busiest day at the fair and draw the most people. I was in the goat barn bright and early, ready to get the show started at 9am. As the kids rushed around getting their animals prepared and cleaned up for their classes, I was fondly reminded of my days as a showman. The show got underway a little after 9am and the bleachers were full with spectators, intently watching what the judge made the kids do. There are two types of shows at most fairs. The showmanship classes are, in my opinion, the most exciting and definitely the most nerve-wracking for the kids. In these shows, the kids are being judged on their knowledge of their animal, how clean and well prepared the goat is for the show and how well they handle themselves and their goat in the ring. You’re probably wondering, how hard can it be? But let me tell you from experience, it’s not easy. There’s a lot to know and a lot to do! Cleaning the animal is a huge and very time-consuming task. Knowing the answers to questions that judges will ask is something that I constantly had to study and remember when I was in 4-H and the kids who showed on Saturday were no exception.
The second type of classes at a goat show is based on the animals themselves and their breeds, ages and purpose. The judge looks at the animal and inspects it for how well it conforms to its breed standards, its general health and appearance, and if it’s a milking goat, how well her mammary system is put together and her level of production. Classes are placed 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. and it’s always great to see the kids walk away with blue ribbons for all their hard work and dedication to their animals.
Saturday at the 4-H fair brings many other shows and activities, the most popular of which is the annual chicken bar-b-que, which always draws a great crowd. A local band also joins the fair for entertainment during dinner and they are always a hit with everyone in attendance. After the fairgrounds close on Saturday evening, it’s time for the kids who organize the fair to have some fun. Fairboard Olympics is a battle of greased-up watermelons, egg tosses, potato sack races and a tug-o-war that leaves everyone laughing and happy. Unfortunately, I was unable to stick around for Saturday’s evening activities but I know everyone had a great time.
Sunday came with another bluebird sky and sunny weather, making it a great day for fairgoers to check out everything going on. Another fair favorite is the goat and sheep obstacle course, which is designed mostly for fun, but also to show off how well the kids have bonded with their animals and can coax them through hoops, over benches and through a kiddy pool full of water—a feat that many do not master because most goats do NOT like water! It’s all in fun and everyone had a great time. Later in the day on Sunday is the biggest competition of all—Premier Showmanship. This high honor goes to the first place showman in each species at the fair. The top placing 4-Her from each specie—beef, dairy, alpaca, sheep, goat, poultry, rabbits and pigs—get together and compete against one another for the title of Premier Showman. The point of this competition is to see how well each kid handles another animal that they are not familiar with. They are at a disadvantage with each species they handle that they do not own, but the goal is to be able to show any animal and prove that to the judge. I was fortunate enough to compete in this show several times while I was in 4-H and I won once, and let me tell you, it’s nerve-wracking. Going from showing a 100-lb. goat to a 400-lb. beefer is definitely a challenge! We had great representation from all species and I’m happy to say that our showman from the goat barn took home the title of Premier Showman for this year’s fair! Everyone did a fantastic job and it was exciting to watch.
The fair closed at 4pm on Sunday and then everyone’s favorite part came—cleanup! It’s amazing how fast people will work to get a bunch of barns cleaned up when they’ve been at the fair all weekend and just want to get home! Cleanup went extremely quick and very efficiently and by 5:30, the bulk of the work was over and everyone started heading home.
Overall, the fair was a great success. 4-H is a program that is close to my heart and I love sharing my experience with such a great organization. You can’t meet better people—the lessons and friends I have learned and made have been lasting. I encourage everyone to seek out your local 4-H fair in these next several weeks—you’ll be glad you did!