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Despite Ozaukee County Fair cancellation, 4-H livestock shows continue

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Beef exhibitors at the Ozaukee County Fair livestock show.

The Ozaukee County Fair was cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but 4-H youth were still able to hold their livestock shows.

The fair was cancelled July 9, just weeks before it was set to open July 29. But the fair's livestock committee decided to press on with the 4-H livestock and inanimate showings anyway to give the kids a show many of them thought would not happen because of current events, especially with the Wisconsin State Fair being cancelled this year.

Mark Larson, the fair board president for Ozaukee County, said the county health department helped prepare the fair for holding the livestock shows. Only competitors, their parents and other essential people were allowed into the fairgrounds. For inanimate judging, objects were dropped off to be judged one by one, with judges kept separated. Some of the livestock classes were also broken up into groups if they were too big to be in one area at a time.

Larson said everyone followed health guidance with masks, hand sanitizer and plenty of social distancing while also being in an open-air setting. The livestock auction continued as well, where bidders were brought by invitation only and kept distant while bidding in an outdoor area. Larson said the community response to the caution and ability to still hold these events while other counties canceled was well-received.

Swine exhibitors at the Ozaukee County Fair livestock show.

"That actually worked out really well, to the point where people are thinking that they'd like to keep that going forward," Larson said. "We had perfect weather and we had a large area that worked out really well for changing plans for where the livestock auction was. The really nice thing was that the community responded well."

While the cost hasn't been calculated yet, Larson said the fair operated at a loss this year in order to still have 4-H exhibitions and the auction, although he said the fair had a "rainy day fund" that helped put the show on despite lost revenue from everything else being cancelled. He added that despite having 24 less animals for the auction than last year, the money made from this year's auction surpassed last year's earnings.

Sydney Gruman, a University of Wisconsin-Platteville sophomore who is in her last year of showing eligibility for 4-H, said she was glad she had the ability to bond with other competitors at the show, but it was also emotional for her because she's been showing since she was eight years old. She felt like she hit a brick wall.

"Emotionally, it's really hard," Gruman said. "It's mentally and physically draining. You walk in the ring, you get your placement, all you can do is just cry. I think I cried more than I have, ever."

Gruman, who showed in swine and is a youth representative on the county fair board's livestock committee, said she hopes to continue being involved as a barn superintendent next year. As an ag education major, she said she "couldn't imagine having her last year (of showing) ripped away from her" like some teens have this year.

Sheep exhibitors at the Ozaukee County Fair livestock show.

Peyton Rychtik, who graduated from Port Washington High School this year and showed in beef, said she was grateful for the opportunity to show at the Ozaukee County Fair this year. She said this year felt even more organized than previous years, and she also felt that she was able to create bonds with other 4-H competitors. While she said the relationship between them is not unfriendly, she said they don't usually get to bond due to the competitive tension.

"I would say usually our fair's pretty competitive, and nobody ever has a bad attitude at our county fair, but it was just nice trying to actually get to completely bond," Rychtik said.

Rychtik said not many people were optimistic about the exhibition shows happening this year because of other cancellations like the Wisconsin State Fair. But she said despite the negativity, the livestock committee still did their best to put on a good show, and she said she even felt less pressure because there was no audience watching her.

"I'm very grateful the livestock committee was able to put that together to still allow us kids to be able to show with all the hard work that we put in," Rychtik said.