For those of us who grew up in the country, we all have had the opportunity to attend local fairs during the summer. Some are small and some are huge like Eastern States and the New York State Fair. Beyond the fair food, the rides and the stage shows, all fairs give 4-Hers, FFA members and farmers a chance to educate city people about farm animal care.
My coworker Stacy Allen and her family operate Allen Farms in West Burke, Vermont. Her husband Alex and father-in-law Steve pull a breed of oxen called Chianinas at Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine fairs. Her two oldest daughters Izzy and Julia pull their own oxen in the kids’ classes.
Starting in June, they hit one fair a week, sometimes two. With three girls ages 1, 5 and 8 and all their belongings, plus oxen, feed, yokes, water buckets and more, Stacy says it’s always an adventure. It’s an experience that gives the Allen family an opportunity to inform the public about their family of gentle pulling giants.
The Allens are flooded with questions at the fairs. “What are those? What do you do with them? Are they pets?” Most questions are welcomed, and they are always happy to answer them and enlighten fairgoers. Some city folks have never seen farm animals, and have a lot of basic questions. Then there are the questions that are pretty self-evident to us farm folks. “Do you ride them?” “Why do these horses have horns?” Izzy and Julia have become experts at answering inquiries. They will also tell people which animals to pat and which are grumpy and should be left alone!
Fairs are both fun and stressful for a family showing livestock. It’s a lot of work, but we all know the payoff comes when a 10-year-old is standing next to his or her champion cow, goat or sheep with a blue ribbon and a big grin on their face.
Dads and often grandfathers share the joy and work involved in exhibiting livestock; and they know it is important to allow kids to show off their prize animals and share farm life with city people. Kids learn how to interact with different types of people. They come to understand that there are many people who do not have the opportunity to grow up around farm animals.
The New York State Fair in Syracuse has taken the farm animal experience one step further with the creation of a Dairy Cow Birthing Center that operates during the fair. Over 200,000 fairgoers have the opportunity to watch a baby calf being born. Imagine the look on a youngster’s face when he sees a mother cow giving birth. In addition to the birthing experience, there is the opportunity to ask volunteers about the dairy industry. No questions are off limits.
Remember if you and your family are showing livestock this summer take the time and answer urban fairgoers’ questions. People who grow up with farm animals are fortunate to interact with them on a daily basis, but not everyone has that experience. Share your knowledge with city folks and they will have a better understanding of farm living.
Please share your favorite fair pictures with us on Facebook. (http://www.facebook.com/farmingmagazine)
For more information on the birthing center at the New York State Fair, go to http://www.nyanimalag.org.
Cover Photo by Stacy Allen