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The Last Windrow: It was a bad year to show animals at the county fair

I wondered how my folks ever made any money when the feed bill was tallied up. Having firsthand knowledge gave me a different perspective of how hard it was to make a dollar on the farm. That was probably the biggest takeaway from this whole exercise. Echo Journal photo illustration.

Jerry's pig died. My Holstein calf developed a sprained front leg. Randy's sheep jumped the fence and headed up the blacktop toward LeMars.

It was the week before the Plymouth County Fair.

Our community is hosting the county fair again this year. It starts this week and there will be four fun-filled days, according to the posters around town. No doubt there will be visitors from around the area strolling through the midway and through the cattle barn and the chicken house.

Many of those folks may not even live close to a farm anymore, but they have some roots that go back to the time of the real small family farm and they cherish those memories and want to pass some of that rural culture on to their kids or grandkids.

And, it is especially enjoyable to look at the animals and not have to worry about cleaning up after them.

Our 4-H club leader had made an extraordinary attempt one year to get all members enrolled in the county fair. Although there was no requirement that any of us enter the fair, we were urged to develop a project and see it through to the end.

At first thought, it seemed an exciting exercise to me. I could see myself proudly leading my black-and-white spotted Holstein heifer up to a judge and coming away with a purple ribbon. I hadn't thought much about what it took to get there.

I acquired a purebred Holstein heifer from one of my dad's herd. I actually paid for the calf and kept track of all the feed it took to raise this creature. Paying for the animal and keeping records were part of the project. I found out in a hurry how much feed one Holstein could eat.

I wondered how my folks ever made any money when the feed bill was tallied up. Having firsthand knowledge gave me a different perspective of how hard it was to make a dollar on the farm. That was probably the biggest takeaway from this whole exercise.

The calf grew tall and healthy and the time came when training the calf to lead was required. That's where the fun stopped. I found out that Holsteins don't take well to a rope. It bucked, it kicked, it crumpled to the earth in an attempt to dislodge the halter and lead rope. I was seen more than once sliding across the farmyard in a cloud of dust, hanging onto the rope for dear life.

After being abused by this creature, I decided to tie it to the tractor's drawbar. That didn't work either. And, in the end, the calf sprained its front leg and limped back into its pen. It did heal up about a week after the county fair was over.

I wasn't the only casualty of the fair. Our club paid a visit to all members' farms the week before the fair to see how the projects were going. First we visited Jerry's farm. We met Jerry in his driveway. He had a forlorn look on his suntanned face.

"My pig died this morning," he lamented. "We don't know what happened. He may have gotten into some bad feed or something."

So, no pig at the fair for Jerry. He was devastated. So much for that positive stop.

The next stop was to take a look at Randy's sheep. He had been grooming them all summer and had bragged about them at our monthly meetings. As we turned the corner around the back of his barn, all we saw were the rear ends of his sheep herd going over the 5-foot high fence.

The sheep headed north on County Road 49 toward the fairgrounds in LeMars, but they never made it that far. Most of them suffered heat exhaustion and Randy spent the rest of the day reviving them. Luckily, they all made it, but not to the fair.

Our leader did give us credit for trying. Randy told me that next year he was going to enter some jelly and Jerry said he was taking up quilting.

So, it is county fair season in the farmland and youngsters will be grooming, polishing and urging their critters to move in front of a judge without bolting. Jerry, Randy and I never enjoyed that experience.

See you next time. Okay?

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