Getting ready for Fair season

Gloria Hafemeister
Now Media Group


Communicating the story of agriculture with fairgoers is an important part of livestock shows. Sometimes, however, youth miss important opportunities to share their story and show nonfarmers how much farm families care for their animals.

Brenda Gudex, Fond du Lac County dairy ambassador and a former dairy exhibitor in Dodge County, recently shared some communications ideas with youth during a fitting workshop near Watertown.

'When you are at the fair, it doesn't matter how many friends you have on Facebook,' she said. 'Put your phone away. Your animal is your best friend at the Fair.'

She stressed the importance of being available to talk with visitors and said if a young person has a phone in their hand, the visitor is less likely to ask questions.

'When you talk with these visitors, be friendly and honest with them. Use terms they understand,' she said. 'Don't tell them how many pounds of milk a cow produces in a year. Tell them how many gallons of milk she produces in a day.'

Gudex urged the youth to be prepared and do their homework about dairy before going to the fair.

'Be prepared to answer questions about dairy breeds, animal care, antibiotic use and how they are housed,' she said.

She reminded the youth that many fair visitors only know what they have seen on Facebook about animal care, and often that information is not accurate. If youth at the fair do not answer their questions, someone who has no farming experience will provide answers, and the information will likely not be correct.

Some of the youth said they were not sure how to handle fairgoers who interfere when they are practicing walking their animals outside the barn at the fair.

'Most people will be respectful but some might walk up to you and want to touch your animal,' Gudex said. 'It's important that you be polite, but you may need to ask them to step back and explain to them what you are doing.

'When people approach you, just stop and take the time to answer their questions. If you're taking her to the milking parlor, tell them that and politely tell them you need to walk on.'

Other helpful sessions

Besides the session on maintaining the exhibit area and communicating with visitors, the workshop also included a variety of other sessions helpful to youth planning to participate in summer shows.

One of the organizers, Linda Behling, said with fair season just around the corner, this annual training event helps youth begin the process of practicing to walk their show animals and feeding and grooming them to look their best at the county or state fair.

The showmanship and fitting clinic was held at the Nickels family farm at Watertown, and older exhibitors helped younger ones learn the basics of showing.

More than 60 youth participated in the event, learning how to prepare their animals in the days preceding the fair; how to feed and manage show animals at the fair; what tools to pack in the show box; and how to maintain the bedding pack where the animals reside during the fair.

Shawn Nehls showed youth what items to place in a showbox. He reminded them of important tools that will come in handy when assembling a display area at the fair and pointed out all the health and cosmetic items needed for these animals. He noted that it is not a lot different than a person packing a bag for a vacation away from home.

Nehls also reminded them to double check that they have the proper registration and health papers in the show box before leaving home. While youth know they need these items, he said sometimes they are forgotten, and without them, the animals cannot enter the show ring.

Matt Smith demonstrated how to make the animal look good in the show ring. Much like going to a beautician for a wash and styling, there are special techniques and cosmetic items that make these animals look like beauty queens.

Why they like showing

As the sessions began, youth introduced themselves and mentioned why they are involved with showing dairy cattle.

Most of the older exhibitors said they do it because of all the friendships that they make over the years.

'My favorite part of showing was always showmanship,' Nehls said. 'You don't have to own a fancy show animal to win showmanship because it's about how you are in the ring.

'I like the competition, even when I don't win.'

Dennis Gunst conducted a special workshop on artificial insemination and the breeding aspects of dairy. Other presenters were Brett Hildebrandt, Josey Morris and Nick Uglow.