There comes a point during Fair Week where it feels like you might as well have your mail forwarded over to the fairgrounds, if you ever got any mail worth forwarding, because that’s pretty much where you are all the time anyway. Fair Week can be pretty intense for those who are in the 4H and have animals and projects to be judged.
And their parents.
Last Friday and Monday morning were all about projects – visual arts, photography, woodworking, drawing and painting. From Monday night on, however, it has been all about the animals.
Lauren and I got Milkshake properly signed in and resident in his cage at the Rabbit Barn Monday night. Rabbits are easy. You pick them up out of one cage and put them into another, and that’s pretty much it. They’re very peaceful animals that way.
Chickens are not peaceful animals. We were reminded of this Tuesday morning when Lauren and I got the chickens similarly registered and in their proper places. There was much squawking and protesting, and the chickens weren't happy either. Fortunately Lauren was only showing five of her nine birds – two of them were disqualified for physical reasons, and two others were redundant (you can only show one bird per category, which makes the judging a lot more physically possible). But even so, it was a trick.
Getting all the birds in place meant first taking Sully from our basement, where he* had been for a couple of days. Kim and Lauren had given him a bath and we were not about to let this newly-sparkling chicken sully (see what I did there?) his shiny white feathers in the barnyard muck that the rest of his avian companions produce. Of course, he’s as much to blame as they are. Bean – the Australorp rooster and not one of the show birds – has been confined to a corner of the stall for a while now due to his aggressive behavior. We put up a slatted wall to keep him there a couple of weeks ago, and put another slatted pallet on top to keep him from flying out. Sully liked to perch on the wires in front and watch Bean, which wouldn’t have been such a problem except that the other seven chickens – all of them – liked to perch on the pallet hanging over right above Sully’s spot. And if you know anything about chickens, you know that the result was that Sully ended up the recipient of an unceasing rain of chicken poop, which is something we were only going to clean once.
That’s the thing about keeping animals. They teach you valuable lessons. Like, “if it’s raining poop, you should probably try to get out of the way.” Also, “chickens are what rocks would be if rocks were less intelligent.”
But Lauren and I fished Sully out of the basement, went out to the farm, stashed the other four birds who were going to the Fair – Venus, Puff, Birdie, and Rosie – into various containers, and went back to town to get them into the Poultry Barn. This turned out to be a surprisingly painless process once we got there. Three cheers for the poultry folks for that.
After lunch Lauren and her friend Autumn spent the afternoon exploring the fairgrounds while I hung out in a shady spot and got some grading done for my summer class, because that’s the kind of daredevil I am. We left early, though, as it was rather hot.
And then came Wednesday and Thursday. I worked it out – over the 48 hours of those two days I spent 24 of them at the Fair. Where’s my mailbox?
We got there early on Wednesday for the rabbits, because all of the animal events seem to start early. Not that they finish early, mind you. Just that they start that way. There is a vast swirl of kids all milling about, brushing their rabbits and getting into their showmanship uniforms (white long-sleeved shirt with the exhibitor number cardboard safety-pinned to the back, long black pants) straightened out and nice looking. There is a large and very loud man (nice guy when you actually talk to him) trying to keep people moving along in the right direction. It's quite a scene.
And then you wait.
It helps if you have friends to pass the time.
They do rabbit showmanship by class, beginning with the novices and working up to the most experienced kids. Fortunately for Lauren this is her second year, so she got to go fairly early in the process. She walked Milkshake out of the barn and over to the long table under the tent outside, where the judge sat, and then launched into her spiel.
For this she was awarded a Second Blue, one off from the Top Blue and one only two blue ribbons awarded in the 2nd-year class. So congratulations to Lauren!
And then it was Wristband Day, where for a flat and fairly nominal fee you can ride on everything in the midway as much as you want. As it was a much cooler day than Tuesday had been, Lauren, Tabitha, and their friends took advantage of this with all appropriate gusto.
That evening it was time for rabbit judging, where once again all the kids get into the showmanship uniforms and wait to be called over to the Stock Pavilion next door to the Rabbit Barn. They go by breed, age and gender of the rabbit (so Milkshake - an 18-month-old Dwarf Hotot male) had to wait until they called “Any Other Fancy Breed, Senior Buck”) and while the process starts around 5pm it doesn’t end until well after 9pm with the awarding of the Grand Champion.
We sat on the bleachers and watched the various classes called before Milkshake’s troop in, get evaluated, and go back out with their ribbons, until it was finally Lauren’s turn. The judge was careful and thorough, and this time around Milkshake got a red.
While this was a step down from the blue he got last year, it did mean that Lauren was now officially done and did not have to stick around for further judging. And since it was still Wristband Day, well, you know how that went.
We eventually went home and poured everyone into bed like day-old coffee, including the adults.
Thursday morning got off to an earlier start than I thought it would. We had planned to be over at the Poultry Barn at 8:30 for the start of judging, but discovered at 7:35 that there was an 8am meeting we were expected to attend. So the day began with that “shot out of a cannon” feeling. But Lauren and I got there on time. Tabitha and Kim arrived somewhat later, not having to be there for the meeting.
This was Lauren’s first year in Poultry, and we discovered that it works very differently than Rabbits do. For one thing, the showmanship part is much less structured – you just go over when you have the time and if you don’t get there before they stop, well, no soup for you.
For another thing, they are fairly strict about categories – you show your bird in the category you registered them in, regardless of mistakes. This is why people sign up for many more categories than they will actually show. When chickens are small (i.e. when you’re signing up, since this happens well in advance of the Fair) it is difficult to figure out what sex they are so you sign them up for everything. This came back to haunt us with two of the birds, it turned out. We forgot to sign Puff up for both sexes and ended up having her show as a cockerel rather than the pullet she was. And then there was Sully.**
Having failed to determine which chickens were what sex by the usual methods we were told to employ (and it's not like Saturday afternoon at the beach, where it all hangs out and is fairly obvious who's what in most cases), Lauren and I had gone out to the barn very early one morning a few weeks ago to see who was crowing, since that’s a pretty reliable way to figure out who’s a rooster and who isn’t. Five of the nine birds were doing that – a distressingly high percentage, really, in terms of long-term viability – and Sully wasn’t one of them, so we figured we had a pullet. When we signed in on Tuesday, that’s what we told the registrar. But when two of the chicken experts at the Fair agreed that Sully was, in fact, a he, Lauren had to make sure to show him in the cockerel category rather than the pullet category. Fortunately we had registered Sully for both (unlike poor Puff), so we could do that. It took some anxious moments to make sure it was allowed, given what we had said to the Registrar, but they said it was okay and it all worked out.
One can only hope that this will not give Sully any further issues later in life.
Chicken judging happens in the same tent where rabbit showmanship took place the previous day. They call an entire class (and if they’re small, two) and everyone brings their bird outside and plops it into the indicated cage in a long row of cages. Then they step back and the judge comes along and evaluates all the birds at once and awards ribbons. It takes all day because there are so many classes (including ducks, pigeons, and turkeys too), but each class or pair of classes goes fairly quickly.
Puff (Barred Plymouth Rock showing as a cockerel) got a white, busted down a place from red for being a pullet in a cockerel class.
Venus (Silverlace Wyandotte pullet) got a straight white.
Birdie (Cochin cockerel) also got a white, but it turns out he’s actually a Bantam Cochin and was registered for the wrong class. The judge said he might have been a blue ribbon in the right class.
Sully (Sultan cockerel) was judged in the correct class and ended up with a red.
And Rosie (Rosecomb Bantam cockerel) also scored a red. That's Lauren holding Rosie on the right, below.
So it was a busy day, and a successful one at the judging stand.
Somewhere in between Sully and Rosie Lauren did find time to go do her showmanship. She chose Birdie as her subject, mostly because he was fairly docile, although he was coming into his roosterdom this week and there might have had to have been a switch to the Backup Chicken (Rosie). Fortunately, Birdie was cooperative. As with rabbits, Lauren scored a Second Blue in her class! Congratulations to Lauren once again!
So were we done? No, no, a thousand times no! We still had to get in our last two performances of The 4H Zone, our Top-Blue-winning play from the 4H Drama Festival in May!
I actually missed Rosie and showmanship because I had to run down to Home Campus and help Jon load the time machine onto his bike rack (trust me, it made sense at the time) and get all the props and duct tape packed and ready. Jon got it all over to the Fairground and I met him there, and we set about getting the backdrops ready.
For the original production, we had three 9’x12’ canvas backdrops that we hung in the flyspace and simply raised and lowered as needed. There is no flyspace at the pavilion at the Fairground. So we had to improvise.
Eventually this meant zip-tying the three backdrops together (in the proper order, which took some thinking) through the grommets at the top, draping them at the best levels we could get over the 6’-tall backdrop and using drywall screws to keep them in place. For the actual production we stood behind the backdrop and when the appropriate cues came, rather than raising or lowering anything from the nonexistent flyspace, we simply heaved the next backdrop over the wall.
Drama: 100% funnier with “flip-canvas” action.
We got everything set up. Tabitha ran the sound. Our intrepid cast of somewhere around 18 kids were in place. And we ran that show twice for an appreciative audience.
There are no photos, unfortunately, as I was backstage with the canvas, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it went well. The cast put in a lot of work – even a couple of pick-up rehearsals – and they were marvelous. It's always something of a shame when a show like that ends its run and disappears into the ether, the way theater does.
We hung out for a while after that, enjoying the fair, and then we left. It was a good day. It was a good couple of days.
*That’s a story in itself, as I’ll get to in a bit here.
**See – I told you I’d get back to this story.