Jefferson County Fair changes frustrate exhibitors, project leaders

Amber Burke
Wisconsin State Farmer

Changes introduced by the fair park committee for the upcoming Jefferson County Fair have left 4-H and FFA members and their families and leaders feeling frustrated. Items under scrutiny  include modifications to rules in the fair's premium book as well as the annual meat animal sale. 

The Jefferson County Fair Park took over planning of the sale from UW-Extension after last year's auction. Brian Bolan, Fair Park Events & Operations manager, said that Jefferson County's UW Extension staff announced in 2021, it was "no longer interested” in organizing future auctions. 

“One of the reasons UW-Extension decided to back down is that it took a lot of man hours,” Bolan said. “It was felt that their time could be put to better use.”

Jefferson County's fair park committee recently introduced the "Jefferson County Fair Animal Auction And Youth Celebration" drawing some opposition from exhibitors, leaders and project supporters.

An exhibitor in the sale ring during the Jefferson County Fair livestock auction.

One of the new requirements states that youth exhibitors may only sell one market animal lot in the project areas of beef, sheep, swine, goats, poultry or rabbits. Participants who choose to sell poultry or rabbits as their market animal lot may sell up to two entries of any combination of the following: two poultry, two rabbits, one poultry and one rabbit. In the past, youth exhibitors have been allowed to sell both large and small meat animals.

Hanna Brattlie, a nine-year poultry and beef cattle exhibitor at the Jefferson County Fair said, "This is upsetting. Exhibitors should not be forced between selling their large animals or their small animals."

Lindsay Baneck, the fair's sheep superintendent added, "As a superintendent, I would have liked the opportunity to share my opinions. Overall, I'm just really disappointed in the lack of communication there has been regarding these changes."

Beginning this year, beef project participants will be required to weigh their market animals at Equity Livestock in Johnson Creek in order to participate in the rate of gain competition. In past years, the weigh-in was held at the fairgrounds. Some project members said they are concerned about animals contracting disease at Equity Livestock.

However, committee members responded that recent Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection changes now require county fair weigh-ins to use certified scales, which Equity Livestock utilizes on their premises.

4-H and FFA members will also be expected to pay more to enter the fairgrounds. The fair park committee more than doubled the price of a youth exhibitor fair-entry wristbands, raising them from $7 to $15. "Our 4-H club has always purchased wristbands for members exhibiting at the fair," said Terri Besch, Rock River Clovers 4-H leader. "This is going to greatly impact our club expenses moving forward."

Another major change was the elimination of the "Cloverbud" category for children in kindergarten through second grade. The exclusion of the Cloverbud division forces children ages five to seven to show their projects as a “future exhibitor” in open class, competing against adults.

Cloverbud project judging at the Jefferson County Fair.

"The removal of the Cloverbud category is inappropriately late. These kids have been planning their projects for months and to be told now they will be judged with adults is ridiculous.” said Angel Hebbe, project leader for Cambridge 4-H. “It also takes away a good learning experience for the 4-H junior leaders who used to do the face-to-face project ‘judging’ for the Cloverbud projects.”

Jerry Wilcenski, 4-H Program Educator for Jefferson County offered a different perspective and presented it to the county's leadership. "We are ultimately in charge of 4-H, and fair park decisions fall outside our area of control. We can provide input and advice, but ultimately the decisions are made by Jefferson County Fair Park," he said. "I understand change can be frustrating, but I also believe it can give us a moment to think bigger. Remember, 4-H is a year-round experience, and fair can provide a great high point for the year. We can do other things to celebrate Jefferson County 4-H outside of the fair."

Despite some major changes being implemented at the 2022 county fair, Bolan says the premium book and auction rules are "fluid documents that are open to future changes."

The Jefferson County Fair opens Wednesday, July 13 and runs through Sunday, July 17, 2022 at the fair park in Jefferson, Wisconsin. For more information on rules changes and a schedule of events visit https://www.jcfairpark.com.