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Showing cattle at the county fair

Eric Sonnek

Published in Dairy Star July 9, 2005

girl showing her calfTwenty-one years ago my dad told me that we were going to the county fair to show calves. My calf’s name was Lori, a Fall Calf at the time. She was a little big for my first animal but this was before the days of Novice “baby” Calf Classes. My dad was in the same class as me and I proudly beat him. Since then, every summer is filled with dairy shows for my family starting in June and going through September, and sometimes even into October. My family may have never taken the family trip to Walt Disney World but there is not a year that goes by that we do not spend time together at the Minnesota State Fair in the Dairy Barn or on other county fairgrounds around the state.

There have always been bio-security concerns that go with showing cattle. When you take an animal to the county fair, your animal is more than likely coming in contact with other animals that your animal has not previously been around. This can expose the animal to a possible disease that you don’t want to bring back home. It is also important to make sure your own animal is disease free so the other animals at the fair are protected as well. Animals come in contact with each other at the wash rack, in the barn and in the ring. One of the most important practices to protect your animal and others is to water and feed her out of your own bucket instead of the “community” water bucket.

All county fairs have rules in place that do not allow animals with ringworm, warts, pink eye and other communicable diseases to show or be housed with other animals at the fair. This is for the protection of your animal and everyone else’s animal. What do you do to manage these diseases? Inspect your animal early for signs of a problem. If you see that your animal has any warts or ringworm, contact your local veterinarian immediately to ask how to best treat these so it can be cured by county fair time. Also, you want to make sure your equipment is always clean so these problems are not further spread to other areas of your animal or not spread from animal to animal. Another important consideration, as a rule of thumb, is to keep the equipment used to wash the animal and the equipment used to pick-up manure separate from the feeding equipment.

Cattle are creatures of habit. They like to do the same thing everyday. When we start loading them up and hauling them to a show, it definitely changes their routine and, thereby, stresses them. Here are some practices you can do to help your animal get used to a change in routine before it’s time to take her to the show:

The animals are only part of the equation for a successful show day at the county fair. Let us also remember that showing cattle is a learning experience for the youth. I know it is a cliché but "not everyone can win". The learning comes from the entire experience from preparation at home, the work in caring for the animal at the fair, and showing the animal in the ring, not just the first place ribbon. The final result is that the “Blue Ribbon” kid is more important than the “Blue Ribbon” animal.

Another important part of the county fair is the educational experience for the general public. Today, much of the general public can be two or three generations removed from the farm. The county fair may be the only time some people see agriculture and animals other than driving down the road through the countryside. As a county fair exhibitor, this contact is a great opportunity for you to help educate the public about agriculture. Exhibitors should try to answer their questions politely and honestly. If there are questions where the answer may not be known, don’t be afraid to refer the questioner to a 4-H leader or Extension personnel. Letting a young boy or girl watch while you milk, feed or clean your animal is something that they will remember and it will help create a more positive image for agriculture.

At the county fair, make sure the area where your animals are housed is clean and that the animals look comfortable. Keeping the aisle clean, making sure the animals are washed and fed, and acting respectable as an exhibitor are all things that will help create more public respect for the agriculture industry and what animal exhibitors do at county fairs.

Remember county fairs are community get-togethers that provide great opportunities for teaching youth responsibilities and decision-making skills. It also provides an opportunity for the general public to learn and gain a new respect for agriculture and livestock. It is an exciting and fun time of the year. With that, good luck and see you at the fairs!

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