All for One livestock shows at State Fair offers opportunity for youth with disabilities

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
A group picture of the participants and their mentors alongside judge Kayla Adamson, Alice in Dairyland Julia Nunes and Fairest of the Fairs Cayley Vande Berg.

Exhibitors tend to do their work alone prepping for and being in the show ring, but the Wisconsin State Fair has made strides in exhibitor teamwork.

The All for One swine and goat shows are designed for kids with disabilities to learn how to show a livestock animal with a group of mentors with exhibitor experience. The mentors help the kids throughout the entire process, from bonding with the animal the day of the show, to brushing it, feeding it, walking it and finally showing it to a judge inside the ring.

A yearly event, the shows don't actually give out ribbons, but participation awards, coupons for fair food and encouragement to come back next year. Many of the kids participating do it multiple times just because they love the experience that much. The swine show has run since 2017, while the goat show debuted in 2019. The swine show was canceled for 2021 due to health and safety concerns, but it will be back next year.

Alice in Dairyland Julia Nunes and Fairest of the Fairs Cayley Vande Berg also made appearances at the show to cheer on the participants. Alex Dettman, who is 15 and showed Topaz, and Zachary Johnstone, who is 17 and showed Goat, competed in Class 1. Matthew Perhach, who is 14 and showed Lola, and Joey Gotter, who is 15 and showed Nut, competed in Class 2.

Alex Dettman gives his show goat Topaz a small kiss.

Lisa Talen, one of the program's managers and a special education teacher in Oak Creek, said the program has been extremely successful in creating new opportunities for youth with both intellectual and physical disabilities.

"The All for One participants come back year after year (with) lots of smiles. New friendships are formed," Talen said. "It brings me a lot of joy and pride to see all the kids working together throughout the whole event when they're getting ready for the show, getting the goat ready and meeting each other."

Talen said they may consider adding another kind of livestock show to the mix in the future, but for now, swine and goats are here to stay. All of the goat show's mentors are junior show exhibitors in dairy and meat goats, Talen said.

Kayla Adamson, a Lomira elementary school teacher with an agriculture background, served as this year's judge, which rotates every year. She's shown dairy goats since she was nine years old and began showing them at the state fair when she was 15. Adamson is also on the Wisconsin State Fair Dairy Promotion Board. She said her job is to "just let their light and joy shine in the show ring." 

"Every child deserves a fair chance to have all these wonderful experiences, and a label should never define a child. They are a blessing and a human being," Adamson said. "Children really connect with animals – there's just this unspoken bond. Being given the opportunity to work with a farm animal that they don't have readily available to them is just wonderful."

Judge Kayla Adamson works with Alex Dettman as he walks his goat around the show ring at the All for One Goat Show.

Mariah Schwartz and Annie Robinson are some of the mentors for this year's program. Schwartz, for whom it was her first year mentoring and showing at the state fair, said her brother had also been a mentor a few years ago and inspired her to do the same thing. Robinson said her brother was also involved, and the whole family encouraged her to come out and try it. This is her second year showing and being a mentor.

"It's really important to me because it's great to see the smiles on their faces when they're in the show ring and when they're working with the goat," Robinson said. "It's really, really great to connect with the goat as well."

The mentors spend the entire day of the show working with their mentee and their goat, which is borrowed from the actual owner. The goat is washed, brushed and fitted in preparation for the show, which involves using adhesive to keep the goat's hair in place. Then the goats and their exhibitors are trained how to walk together. The young exhibitors also learn how to feed and water their animal.

"It just makes me feel really good that I'm giving back and helping people that maybe don't have the opportunities I do," Schwartz said. "I can teach them what I know about goats and how to show them and how to prepare them."

Alice in Dairyland Julia Nunes gives Joey Goetter a participation award, vouchers for a free grilled cheese and chocolate milkshake, sunglasses and other goodies after the show.

Ringside support Marie Harriee, a dairy and meat goat exhibitor from Edgerton, helped to take pictures of the group and provide moral support. She said the event was fun and provides youth with disabilities a chance to find a new passion.

"I'd say it was a great success and it was a lot of fun," Harriee said. "I think it's amazing because ... you're able to teach others the knowledge that you have and let them expand on their knowledge and maybe they'll find it in their passion to continue doing it along the way."