Learning from livestock – Fair marks culmination of a year’s worth of work for 4-H’ers

4H exhibitor Kayla Coffman, right, displays her pig around the arena Saturday afternoon during the livestock auction. Photo by Ben Coulter.

The Madison County Fair hosted a successful 4-H and FFA exhibition last week as the community came together to watch kids from all over the county display a year’s worth of hard work.

While the sun beat down on the roof of the Friends Sale and Show Arena on Thursday, inside young exhibitors nervously shuffled along with their animals from the barn out into the show pen. They did their best to look confident, presenting their hogs and sheep with pride, but some looked distracted. As 12-year-old Chace Guinnane of Alder explains, showing his prize hog is anything but easy.

“They’re really smart,” Guinnane said. “They can get through fences, they dig holes and get under the gates.”

Believe it or not, training your show hog is a big part of preparing for the fair, he said.

Showmanship judge Marc King, right, congratulates Chris Funston on his prize-winning hog Thursday during the 4H swine show at Madison County fairgrounds. Photo by Ben Coulter.

“Right before fair you really want to start working with him,” said Guinnane. “They like pretty much anything you do to them. You can put them in one pen, just let them run around, they have a blast.”

Showmanship judges watched for the exhibitors’ ability to control the animal as they walked around the arena. The most difficult part of the process is “just making sure your pig looks good,” Guinnane said.

But other factors can be stressful as well.

“Is it going to weigh over 300 pounds?” he asked. “Is it going to just go out there and start being a bad pig getting into fights and stuff?”

Occasional scuffles broke out between swine in the arena, but were quickly quelled by ring men who slipped a wooden board between the animals.

As squirrely as pigs can be, the lambs didn’t always behave either. Sometimes lambs didn’t want to take their places in line.

Livestock judge Marc King missed none of it. The tall cowboy from Big Timber is a veteran of the livestock judging and paced around the show arena offering critiques to the exhibitors, trying to be both kind and critical, helping the youngsters learn from the experience.

“You’re talking about a person’s kids,” King explained. “Making the kids and the parents understand that you’re not driving the kid into the ground … You’re trying to give them those pointers that will help them be successful the next time.”

For King, the best part is “seeing the youth programs like 4-H and FFA use livestock as a vehicle to teach life skills to these kids, then to watch those kids grow up with that drive, determination and responsibility.”

And the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work with their fair animals came to fruition Saturday afternoon in the sales arena as the 4-H and FFA livestock auction got underway.

The community crowded into the arena’s shade to bid on exhibitor’s animals. Ring men raced to help the auctioneer take the next highest bid from around the show pen before the animal was rushed back into the barn.

Although he was busy taking bids and dodging livestock in the middle of the chaos, ring man and Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz enjoyed the scene.

“I am very interested in having young people both from the rural part of our county and inside our communities gain a stronger understanding of the value of agriculture,” Schulz said.

“If you want to have a successful 4-H product and project, it takes a lot of work from a young person,” he continued. “We’ve got a great number of really good young people who care very well for their project, that steer or that sheep or that hog, and we’ve got an incredible community that comes together to show their support.”

Some kids were sad to part ways with their projects. Understandably, they have built a bond with the animals they spent the last few months grooming. Others enjoyed the satisfaction of watching their efforts come to fruition, excited by the money in their pockets. Regardless of how the exhibitors felt, the Madison County Fair was the culmination of a lot of hard work and dedication.

“These young people have done a great job,” King said.

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