Thursday, July 30, 2015

Judging the Animals at the Fair

There is something of a gradient of ownership at the Fair.

Over on the east side of the fairgrounds is the midway.  Any rube can walk through the midway and many of them do.  It’s a fun place, even if it is too loud and I’m too old.  There are games and prizes – it’s one of the few places on earth where you regularly see muscular tattooed men carrying large teddy bears – and right next to it is the food area where anyone with a few dollars and no concern for their long-term health can find tasty things to eat.  This is the public part of the Fair.

In the middle of the fairground is the big stage, which is open to everyone during the day but at night it closes down and you have to pay extra to get in.  They have a variety of musical acts that call to mind the evocative quote from The Blues Brothers (“We’ve got both kinds!  Country and Western!”) and every so often they get someone else who is running the county fair circuit to perform.  Once in a while they score and book someone who hits the big time right before the Fair – one year they had a band named for a political division somewhere in the south and the closest parking spot that night was somewhere in Indiana.  So the middle is a mixed place.  It’s public, but restricted.

Further west come the small animals – the rabbits, the poultry, and so on.  You get some of the crowd in there, of course, but mostly this belongs to the kids who have raised those animals and are now showing them off.

And then come the big animals – dairy, beef, pigs, sheep, and so on.  Goats if you’re inclined to put them up in this category.  Mostly the people you see here are the kids and their families and friends.  Not as many other people wander this far over.

So far we’ve made it to the third level, with the small animals.  This is where you feel you own the Fair – it’s yours, and everyone else is just visiting.  Lauren keeps encouraging us to take the next step to level four, which would involve owning some kind of hoofed mammal, but we’ve successfully resisted her entreaties to this point.

She remains optimistic, however.

Lauren is the animal exhibitor in our household.  Tabitha used to do cats, but our cats finally had enough of that and she had to stop.  So we’re in for rabbits, chickens, and – new this year – turkeys, and that’s quite enough really.

Rabbit judging was yesterday.

The first step with rabbits is showmanship, where the goal is to demonstrate to a judge that you actually do know a thing or two about your animal.  There’s a whole ritual involved – you pose the animal, flip it around, point out every small feature on it as if you are some kind of tour guide for fleas looking for a new home, and answer questions as they arise.

You also wait a lot, since that is a prerequisite for just about anything.

Lauren has moved up a class to Intermediate, which meant that her Showmanship wasn’t until after lunch.  Not that this kept her from coming in early – she still had poultry to take care of, and it was Wristband Day after all – but she spent much of her morning grooming Maybelline and getting ready for her audience with the judge.

It went well.  She ended up scoring 96/100 on the exam, which is a solid Blue ribbon in anyone’s book.

There was then a long interval of midway rides, since that is the whole point of Wristband Day.  Lauren took off with her friends and Tabitha took off with hers and Kim and I just went home since we are not the target audience for those rides anyway.  It’s nice that they are old enough to roam the Fair on their own now.

Rabbit judging starts at 5pm and goes until the next Mayan apocalypse.  They close down the Rabbit Barn so that even the parents cannot get in – a new feature this year which was inconvenient but which, in hindsight and as a teacher, I can understand.  Kim and I hadn’t planned to be back until around 6 or 6:30, but Lauren called so we came by and stood outside the building and talked to her through the screen until she just told us to go away, after which we wandered around the fair for a while.  Eventually we found our way back to the Stock Pavilion, where the judging takes place, and we waited.

It’s probably good for the kids that the judges are thorough and take the time to explain things to them.  The audience grows ever older and more infirm, but the 4Hers do well out of it so really how much can you complain?  Lauren’s rabbit class didn’t come up until nearly 7:30, and didn’t finish until after 8.

She had the same judge as her showmanship.

Maybelline ended up scoring a Blue ribbon, which is precisely the sweet spot between being disappointed (Red) and having to stick around for another two or three rounds of judging (Top Blue) when there is still fun to be wrung out of Wristband Day.

Today began far too early, because poultry waits for no man, woman, or child.

Poultry is a bit more free-form than rabbits, in that showmanship happens whenever the kids wander over to the judge rather than on a schedule and the actual judging is rather more fluid, but it all goes well even so.  There are a lot more birds than rabbits, in a lot more categories, so you do what you have to in order to make it work.

Turkeys came first.

This is Lauren’s first year with turkeys, so we didn’t quite know what to expect.  It turns out that from the exhibitor’s perspective turkey judging is the easiest animal in the Fair.  They don’t even have to be taken out of their cages (which is good when you’re talking about a 35lb bird) – the judge just walks among them, examining them, grabbing them now and then, once in a while setting them free to roam to see how they move.  Easy.

Our Fair recognizes four categories of turkey – white and bronze, tom and hen.  Lauren’s birds are bronze, and she had one of each – a tom and a hen.

Norman was judged first of the two.  We were worried about his tail feathers, since Maica had been worrying them for weeks, but it turned out that must be quite common since his tail looked better than almost every other turkey there.  So win for Norman.  There were a lot of bronze toms, and in the end Norman came out as the Top Blue – the best bronze tom at the Fair!

The judge was particularly impressed with his musculature – he said that it was clear he had a lot of room to walk around and his legs looked good – and with his eagerness to puff up and display himself, which the judge said was a sign that Norman had been played with a lot.  This in fact was true.  He’s been a well-taken-care-of bird.

Maica also did well, scoring a Blue.  She might have done better if she had been willing to walk for the judge, but every time she came out of the cage she stopped pacing immediately and sat down.  Oh well.  That’s what happens with animals – they do what they do.  The judge later told us that she wouldn’t have gotten Top Blue anyway, since she’s a bit on the narrow side, but that she was a very good looking bird who had obviously been cared for very well.  That was nice to hear.

Eventually it came down to the four Top Blues, and Norman came out as the Reserve Grand Champion turkey.  For those of you who are Fair-impaired, this means he was the second-best turkey of all of them, and that’s quite an achievement for a first-year turkey exhibitor.

Congratulations, Lauren!

Then it was time for chickens.  I missed most of this, unfortunately, since I had to run back to Home Campus and give a final exam to my summer class.  I didn’t want to be there, the students didn’t want to be there, and yet there we were. 

I did get to see Lauren show her first chicken – the Sultan pullet she named Santana, who scored a Red.

I missed the Buff Orpington cockerel (Simon, who got a Red also), the Buff Orpington pullet (Pumpkin, who scored a Blue), the Faverolle cockerel (Rhett, another Blue) and the Faverolle pullet (Mocha, who not only got a Blue but was declared to be the Top Bird in her group, so we’re going to call that a Top Blue and leave it at that).

I got back in time to see Lauren’s chicken showmanship, though, which went well (another Blue!).  She had the same judge as the turkeys that morning.

All in all, a successful day at the Fair.

The animals are now done until the Fur and Feather Sale on Saturday.  Tomorrow will just be barn duty, general fair-going, and perhaps something of a break.  Or not.  We’ll see.

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