I grew up on a dairy farm, but we never went to the fair… not any local county fairs and certainly not the Great NYS Fair. My cousins all showed cows, but my family focused on crop production and showing cattle just wasn’t in our wheelhouse. I remember looking back at pictures and being confused. Why are these people dressed in white (head to toe)? How can a cow be so well trained? HOW MUCH TIME DOES THAT TAKE???? Isn’t that a LOT of work? That must be exhausting. I never understood any of it.
I never understood any of it until my daughter joined our local 4-H Dairy chapter. In a very short amount of time, ALL of it made sense. My daughter is a very active kid. She’s 12, athletic, VERY social and always “onto the next thing”. She loves skiing, lacrosse and soccer, but she isn’t much of a “farm kid”. She prefers to be on a lacrosse field rather than in the pasture or at the barn. She loves to travel and gets to go on some pretty amazing vacations. But if you ask my daughter what her favorite time of year is, without missing a beat her response is always “The Cortland County Fair”. Most people hear that response and look at her cross eyed. The county fair??? Why on earth is her favorite time of year the county fair? She sleeps IN the barn, is exhausted 95% of the time, is dirty 99% of the time (which makes keeping “show whites” actually WHITE quite a feat) and has to up at the crack of dawn to prepare her calf to be shown. So, I did a little investigating and interviewed her.
Why is the Cortland County Fair your favorite thing to do every year?
Elsa: Oh, there are so many reasons. I get to meet new people. I have a LOT of FUN. I get to interact with lots of animals (she can generally be found amongst the Guinea Pigs). I love the freedom we all have to just be kids and have fun. It’s a pretty safe place and all the adults work together to keep us safe. It is usually pretty chaotic and I actually like that. And I LOVE a breakfast sandwich and a raspberry/chocolate Granita from CoffeeMania (this is a local coffee shop and is a HUGE treat for my daughter) that you buy me during the fair because I’m always so tired.
What do you do at the Cortland County Fair?
Elsa: I show my jersey calf that I lease from Silver Spring Farm on Onondaga Hill. Last year I also showed Market Broilers (meat chickens) and sold them for $360 (3 chickens… she sold 3 chickens for $120 PER bird). This year I am also showing my guinea pigs, Trevor and Finch.
Beside showing animals, what do you enjoy doing at the Fair?
Elsa: I love all the activities the fair board has planned. I love the Iron Chef competition that I do with my friends. Costume class with our animals is always fun. I’m really good at the Pedal Tractor races, so I love those. And the scavenger hunts are always super fun.
Wow, all this sounds very tiring. Aren’t you tired when you’re there (and as her mother, I can attest to the fact that she is EXHAUSTED)
Elsa: Yup. I am tired during that week. But it’s because I’m having so much fun I can’t stop and rest. It’s not because I’m doing hard work. I’m just having too much fun and that is tiring. And CoffeeMania Granitas help keep me energized.
Do you care how well your calf and you do in the show ring?
Elsa: YES. I do care. I really want to go to the State Fair and show and my calf must do well at the County Fair to make that happen. One year my calf made it, but I was out of town during the Great NYS Fair and couldn’t be at the state fair to show her. Hopefully this year Cameo (the calf) does well and I’ll get to experience showing at the State Fair. But if my calf doesn’t do well, that’s okay too because I’m having so much fun all week.
As a mother, I generally see an over tired kid who is very frustrated in the show ring because… A. She hasn’t put in the amount of time prior to the fair she needed to in order to have a well behaved calf, and B. She is very competitive and wants to do well. I wipe away the tears when she doesn’t do well. Those are the things I focus on. But clearly, she doesn’t focus on those things. No matter how many tears are shed after she leaves the show ring, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Personally, I’ve learned a lot about showing cows that I never imagined I needed to know. Aside from all the technical things the kids must know in the ring, I’ve learned WHY cattle are shown. First and foremost, our 4H club shows cattle for the experience and the responsibility it takes to get an animal to the fair… hours of walking a calf, hours spent giving them baths, hours spent preparing the animal to look the best it can look. On a greater scale, cattle are shown to highlight the genetics you have in your herd and make a name for yourself. It’s a very tight knit group of individuals who have camaraderie and share a passion… cattle. It’s a passion they are proud of and love to showcase. And it shows.
My daughter… s e is a very lucky girl. Not all kids get to experience rural America for what it is truly about… our agriculture community and how well we all come together. She is blessed to have these years to look back on and smile. And it’s for those reasons that I’m willing to live in a camper at a county fairgrounds during the heat of the summer. It’s for those reasons I help her with halter training a 400 pound calf that starts off with no manners and steps on a lot of toes… literally. It’s for those reasons that I wipe away the tears and ignore the over tired child laid out before me and “Keep Calm and Dairy On”.