Thursday, August 21, 2014

That was the fair that was

--> Tuesday morning, I noted a certain spring in my step that had been lacking the last couple of weeks.  As I made the rounds, I did not feel sore of joint, tired of limb, or generally exhausted.  I attributed this renewed pep to taking Monday “off”, or as off as I can while still keeping animals fed and watered and milk from going sour and laundry from piling too high.  What had me so tired, enough to need a day off, was the Douglas County Fair. 

The fair presents an interesting view of life here in Douglas County.  It’s taken me, a city boy, a long time to get used to life here, but I’m learning to appreciate it.  It’s no longer a surprise when somebody talks about their newborn lamb that’s been rejected by its mother, and how they had to take it to work for bottle feeding for a week, and it wasn’t a problem.  It seems that most people either did 4H or FFA as kids, or have children raising a lamb or hog for one of those programs.  The loudest noise I heard at the fair (outside of the rock concerts every night) was the excited cheer from a hundreds of teenagers at the selection of the winner of the hog showmanship competition.  The local newspaper ran pictures of the champion steer and hog and the kids who raised them, above the fold, on the front page.  

Other facets of Douglas County show themselves at the fair, besides the 4H and FFA livestock.  The timber industry has its own big tent, and the local firms all have displays celebrating their stewardship and their ability to employ locals.  The exhibit hall had booths for the NRA, a concealed carry class, a couple of booths that were raffling off guns, various branches of the military, Oregon Right to Life (really, there is no contradiction, is there?), a handful of churches with quizzes to determine whether you were heading to heaven or hell, and vendors of bumper stickers and t-shirts urging us to remember Benghazi and impeach the dictator.  The county Democratic Party had a booth too, though they admitted that they did feel a bit like a minority.  The lady working the Douglas County Republicans booth lives a couple miles down the road from me; the fellow at the Democrats booth just over the hill.  A certain politeness is useful in small communities, when everybody is your neighbor. 

There were the usual fairground rides, run by the gypsies that travel from fair to fair, ensuring a certain uniformity in all these events.  The rides—the whirl-a-meal, the rising gorge, the hurling dervish—were all there, working to separate riders from their lunch and any loose items in their pockets.  The food stalls were similarly free of regional context—giant mounds of curly fries and deep-fried anything—with one exception.  I grew up going to the fair and eating fry bread, or the less-politically-correct “Indian fry bread”; here, the booths sold “scones,” which are the same thing, but served with honey and cinnamon sugar.  I had two, over the four days of the fair, and that will hold me till next year. 

All these sights and sounds and gastric experiences were ancillary to my experience of the fair.  We were at the fair for the open-class (that is, not 4H or FFA) livestock competition, with our fine goats and sheep.  For us, the fair is an opportunity to have our animals seen by prospective buyers; for us to advertise our farm; for our animals to be professionally evaluated and ranked with those from other farms; and to interact with other breeders and growers and trade insights with them.  It’s a big deal.  So, in the week before fair, we spent a lot of time grooming our animals, picking burrs from fleece, trimming nails, clipping hair, and so on.  The fairgrounds provided pens, but these needed to be filled with sawdust and straw and set up with feeders and buckets and salters, and we also needed hay and grain and all the other requirements for a healthy and happy animal.  Some folks bring in whole outdoor living-room suites, with tables and chairs and cupboards and rugs, but we just made do with folding chairs and a folding table; and, though it wasn’t as elaborate as many of our neighbor’s displays, we did manage to get a laminated banner with our farm name and logo on it. 

We brought the animals in on Tuesday, before the official start of the fair, and after a cursory check by the vet, they were led to their pens.  Wednesday was spent on getting things a little better set up, and picking fleeces clean.  We brought seven of our Shetland sheep: two ram lambs, three ewe lambs, and two yearling ewes.  That’s a lot of fleece to pick, especially after they’ve had free run of a pasture full of queen anne’s lace.  One of our goals over the next five years is to have fewer weeds in our pastures, but for now—owing to years of neglect—we have lots of weeds, and lots of burrs in our fleece.  At least we have better feeders than last year, when the simple act of eating would fill our sheeps’ fleeces with bits of hay.  We envied our neighbors at the fair, who had a troupe of grandchildren with their nimble fingers picking fleeces. 

The sheep competition was on Thursday, and the Shetlands were the largest class (there were also Dorsets, St. Croix, East Down, and Liecester sheep in the competition).  The judge was more familiar with the meat breeds, and even then didn’t have a lot of experience with the comparatively rare St. Croix and Blue-Faced Liecester.  As breeder of Shetlands, one gets used to having this sort of judging—the fleeces got a cursory look, and there was a bias towards larger, more “built” animals.  However, our sheep did well.  Our ram lambs finished first and second in their group; the yearlings were second and third; and our ewe lambs took top spots, with one winning reserve champion Shetland.  We also scored a brace of the group titles, such as best young herd.   

Friday was supposed to be a rest day, but most of the day was spent helping other sheep folks and goat breeders with their animals.  One of the things I’ve come to like about the fair is the fact that, despite our all being in competition with each other, everybody helps everyone else.  For example, after the show, all the Shetland breeders spent a long evening critiquing and admiring each other’s animals.  This cooperative attitude extends to working as night watch—the sheep barn is right next to the amphitheater where, every evening of the fair, there is an extremely loud rock concert, and there are extremely hammered people staggering through the barn, picking fights with the rams and doing other similar acts of stupidity. 

Saturday was the goat show.  As a show sanctioned by the American Dairy Goat Association, exhibitors were encouraged to dress in white.  So after doing the morning chores, I changed into my milkman outfit and headed to the ring with Java, Zarzuela, and Snegurochka, our three junior does. It might be because they’re small, so it’s easy to get a lot of them; or it might be that they’re cute and trendy, but there were a lot of Nigerian Dwarf Goats in the competition.  Despite being in a large class, our does did great, with each being the top of her age class, and Java winning best junior doe.  Of course, once our goats were done, there were the adult Nigerian Dwarves, the Nubians, the La Manchas, and all the other breeds, and so I spent most of the day helping to wrangle much larger goats than I’m used to.  It was interesting to see the variety, and having been dragged around the ring by an upset Nubian, it reinforced my desire not to deal with the larger breeds. 

The fair officially was over on Sunday.  Some folks were there a soon as the gates opened at 6 AM, spiriting their animals back to the farm and taking down their displays.  Others hadn’t really done any deconstruction by noon, by which time we had made two round trips to the fairgrounds and back.  There was one bit of fair business left, before we quit the fairgrounds for good—there are cash awards for placing in the livestock show, and we collected enough to pay for a few days’ hay for our herd.  Then, home, unpacking, and R&R.  As I mentioned, it’s exhausting to prep for fair, then take care of animals at home and at two locations in the fairgrounds, show animals, and then pack everything up.  There was a lot of laundry and housecleaning to do, not to mention sleep to catch up on.  An exchange with a cashier at the co-op sums it up:

Cashier:  How’d the fair go for you?

Me:  Great—all our animals did really well, best junior doe, champion ewe.

C:  You look tired. Glad it’s over?

Me:  Oh, yeah.

C:  Everybody’s seems so glad when it’s done.  Looking forward to next year?

Me:  Oh, yeah. 

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