Raising an animal, birth to market, an emotional experience for 4-H youth at County Fair

Sarah Razner
A local youth presents his chicken at the Fond du Lac County Fair.

FOND DU LAC - While the Fond du Lac County Fair is known for its performers and carnival rides, at its heart is a desire to shine a light on 4-H youth and educate visitors on local agriculture.

Since its start, the county fair has been centered on the agricultural community.

For many farming families, the fair was — and remains — the big event of summer, said Katie Grinstead, president of the Fond du Lac County Fair.

While the numbers have decreased over the years as a result of fewer farms, youth continue to be dedicated to their work, working to raise high-quality animals for the event.

“The backbone of the fair is still the 4-H kids,” said Grinstead. “We still have entertainment to bring people to the fair, but we would like them to come and see all great projects.”

Alongside attractions, such as the Close Encounter of the Exotic Lion and Tiger Show, Firefighter Water Fight, Bull Riding and Barrel Racing, the public will be able to view a variety of livestock from local youth throughout the fair’s duration. Animals to be shown and judged include cows, swine, goats, sheep, rabbits, chicken and — for the first time this year — llamas. 

Starting as young as age 9 and up to age 21,  youth must be from Fond du Lac County or be part of a Fond du Lac County 4-H club to participate.

Grinstead started at the fair when she was 4-H member in third grade. 

“I met a lot of great friends and learned about responsibility,” Grinstead said. “That’s why I’m so passionate about the fair now. It was an awesome experience.”

While visitors to the fair will only see the final product when animals are judged and shown, the work by the participating youth begins months earlier.

Speaking from the experience of both her and her son, Colton, who will be in his third year at the fair, Grinstead says that with animals, such as swine, it begins in March.

As youth raise their animals, they maintain records of how much they spend on the animal itself, its feed and supplies, which is submitted to record books at the end of the year.

Colton Grinstead shows his swine at the Fond du Lac County Fair. The process of preparing for the event takes months of work for the participating youth.

“It’s a great way for kids to learn about money,” she said. “It gives them a sense of business. With my son, we make him pay back the supplies and the cost of the pig, and the rest of the money goes back into his account for college.”

Daily, the youth feed the animal and train it to walk properly for the fair, so, as they walk around the ring, “the pig will behave and look the best it can possibly look,” says Grinstead. 

Before coming to the fair, the animal is groomed multiple times, with youth clipping its hair and washing it. 

All this work is evaluated at the fair during two separate competitions: judging and showmanship.

Junior Judging, which takes place throughout the week of the fair, allows judges to evaluate the animals based on qualities and species features. In Junior Showmanship, however, the youth are evaluated by judges on how well they presented the animal, which is where the grooming aspect and training becomes so important.

Youth then participate in a livestock auction, where the animals they have raised are sold at price per pound. In preparation for this, youth write and send letters to prospective buyers, who will hopefully attend the event. With the sale going to the highest bidder, the animal is sold to go to market in what, for some, is an emotional experience. 

“The first year, there were several tears,” said Grinstead. “They get experience. The whole process from taking care of a little pig, to raising it to best quality and selling it ... they get a sense of appreciation for all that goes into raising the animals, as well as the life cycle.”