4-H fair livestock events result from months of preparation

One of the participant in the swine barn tries to get a quick nap during the Hancock County Fair on June 22,2019.

GREENFIELD — What does it take to put on a week of livestock shows featuring hundreds of young 4-H’ers and animals?

A lot of people working together, according to those organizing and participating in the Hancock County 4-H Fair.

They team up every year to make it happen and 2019 has been no different. Animals’ treks through the show ring are the culmination of months of preparation, from the young exhibitors raising the livestock to the 4-H volunteers coordinating behind the scenes.

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The fair’s livestock lineup includes a concourse of cattle, goats, llamas, alpacas, poultry, sheep and rabbits, but its largest show is swine.

About 360 pigs arrived at the fairgrounds last Thursday ahead of the swine shows over the weekend. Fair workers weighed and tagged the animals before assigning them to their stalls in a large barn on the property.

Jeff Jones, the fair’s swine superintendent, said the check-ins took about four and a half hours.

Emma Branham, 15, and Lillian Hatch, 10, arrived with their hogs three hours ahead of the start time.

“We were third in line, so that was good,” Emma said.

Preparations for the show began long before the drop-off day. Jones said the local 4-H’s swine committee puts in plenty of hours in planning for the fair throughout the year.

“You can’t do it without a lot of good help,” he said as hogs snorted and metal gates creaked throughout the swine barn last Friday.

Committee members, 4-H’ers and 4-H parents experiences goes a long way in making preparations as smooth as possible as well, Jones said.

“If it wasn’t for that, it’d be total chaos,” he added with a laugh.

At that moment, some swine committee members were in an office dividing the swine exhibitors’ names into classes for the upcoming shows and preparing a breakdown of animals in the fair’s auction. Earlier, the committee reached out to the swine show’s judge to confirm his attendance over the weekend. The committee selects a judge through a vote after members nominate candidates and discuss their backgrounds, Jones said.

On Saturday, fencing created an alley from the swine barn to the show ring. Class by class, contestants moved into the ring’s holding pens before heading out to put their preparations to the test.

When it was their swine’s time to shine, 4-H’ers tapped the animals’ sides with whips to guide them around the ring as the judge studied them and used a microphone to make comments on their appearances.

Emma showed a crossbred and Duroc in this year’s swine show while Lillian showed a Yorkshire. They got the pigs, all born near the beginning of the year, from a local breeder over spring break. The animals stayed in a barn on Emma’s family’s property and the girls have taken care of them by cleaning their pens and ensuring they eat enough to reach an ideal size for the show. They also walked them regularly.

“When you walk them, it helps get their muscles stronger so it’ll be easier to show them come fair day,” Lillian said as she ran a brush over her pig’s back.

Carey Branham, Emma’s mother, said the girls contribute a significant amount of time toward raising the animals.

“It’s every day,” she said. “It’s a big commitment.”

Lillian agreed.

“It’s really hard, but it definitely pays off,” she said.

Steven Roland, 18, is in his 10th and final year of 4-H and showed a crossbred and two purebreds in the swine show. He lives in Greenfield and keeps his pigs at a friend’s house just outside of the city.

Several different bags of feed rested on a makeshift shelf crossing the fencing that made up one of his pig’s pens. Some feeds are packed with protein, Roland said, while others are filled with fat.

He’d head out to his friend’s just about every night to walk his pigs, which strengthened their muscles, evened out their bodies and acclimated them for their time in the show ring.

“It gets it more used to being around other pigs, not just the ones it’s been next to for its whole life,” Roland said while taking a break from trimming the hair off one of his hogs.

Steve Wilson, the fair’s beef superintendent, said there were about 60 cows in this year’s beef show. Participating 4-H’ers have been working with their animals since last fall, when they weighed between about 600 and 700 pounds. The cows usually double in size by fair time, he added.

Exhibitors regularly clean and feed their cows, Wilson continued, adding they also enter information on their animals online and have to pass an animal care test.

As with swine, the beef committee’s fair preparations entail regular meetings and recruiting a judge, Wilson said.

Show day is always busy, he continued. The 4-H’ers arrive early in the morning to wash and groom their cows. It’s not uncommon for them to finish at 10 or 11 p.m. While it’s a long day, the exhibitors welcome the work that’s required, he said.

“They know what they’re getting into and I think they enjoy it,” Wilson added.