Sunday, July 30, 2017

Report from the County Fair, Part 1: Set Up

Another County Fair has almost come to an end, which means that any day now I may emerge out of the haze of pine shavings and gravel that has become my world this week back into the bright sunshine of, well, whatever I was doing before this week started.  It’s been busy.  I forget what it was.  I’m sure it was less focused on farm animals and art projects, and had fewer cream puffs.

We love the Fair.

It’s the high point of the 4H year.  The Fair has animals.  It has photography.  It has both kinds of music (County and Western).  It has art.  It has a wide variety of fried foods as well as a few things that might be considered not entirely unhealthy under the right circumstances and with appropriate professional training.  It has exhibits and vendors and fewer right-wing cultural tents than in years past.  There are friends already there, and other friends who come by specifically to visit.  What’s not to love?

Tabitha and Lauren did pretty well for themselves this year, once again.  Tabitha had various art pieces that were nicely done and richly rewarded.  Lauren’s animals and projects survived and thrived, and once again she came home with Actual Hardware.  It’s good to see them do well.  I am immensely proud of my daughters for the work they put into this.

Fair Week started later than usual this year because they decided to get rid of all the pre-Fair judging and have the judging done during the actual Fair.  I’m not sure why they made this decision, and for reasons I won’t go into here I’m not all that thrilled by the possibilities I can imagine, but so it goes.  Them’s the rules, so them’s the breaks.  The Fair is still the Fair and still a lovely thing.  In practical terms it meant that the girls had just that much more time to get their projects done, so they could finish in plenty of time and then relax heading into the Fair itself.

See what I did there?  I kill me!  Of course most of these projects went in with wet paint – figuratively and in at least one case literally.  That’s how projects are.

Changes in project judging didn’t affect our poultry schedule, though, and last weekend we gave the four remaining show chickens their bath.  We were planning on six, but all of our salmon favorelles died before the Fair, alas.  Ryland: gone but not forgotten.

Judges like clean chickens.  Barns are not good places for chickens to become or remain clean.  So every year we bring the show chickens home for a couple of illegal nights right before the Fair lets you load in – you’re allowed to have chickens in Our Little Town now, but there’s a permit process that we skip because really they’re only going to be here for 48 hours.  And it wasn’t hot, so we could shut them up in the garage without frying them.  So there they sat, drying off, the two hens clucking and the two roosters crowing, reminding everyone why hens are good to have in town but roosters are not.

Also, just a reminder, there is nothing so ridiculous as a wet chicken.  This has been a public service announcement.  Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

We spent Saturday morning setting up the rabbit barn as well.  There’s always a good crowd there and it goes quickly.  I find that the trick is to settle into a job that you can do for a while – I ended up as one of the people setting up the wire cages so others could take them away and place them – and stick with it.  The wire cage set-up job is a scratch-intensive activity, but it’s relatively straightforward and band-aids are easy to find.  Once everything was set up, our specific club decorated our part of the barn with streamers, trolls, and colorful things.  Because the rabbits aren’t adorable enough on their own, I suppose.  It’s also kind of expected.  You get awards for decorations. 

It’s 4H – there are awards for everything.

We brought the rabbits in Monday night and got them settled.  They’re not really used to the bustle of the Fair, so it’s good to get them in place.  Plus, poultry load-in is Tuesday morning and it is generally best for one’s mental health not to try to bring in rabbits, chickens, and turkeys at the same time.  At least it is for mine.

Tuesday morning dawned bright and early, and we found ourselves packing up the chickens at 6am and stuffing them into the van before heading off to the barn to collect the two show turkeys.  We have a rather large flock this year – eleven of the twelve survived to adulthood, which is a phenomenally good survival rate among domestic turkeys – so we haven’t gotten to know them individually like we have in years past.  All of which meant that we went out with the big wire dog cage that our friend Jon loans us every year and Lauren pointed to the two she thought were most Fair-worthy, and then comedy ensued.

Turns out that turkeys don’t really like getting into cages.

You’re talking about a bird that weighs somewhere between 20lbs/9kg (for the hen) and 40lbs/18kg (for the tom), stands about a yard/meter tall from toes to nose, and has negative intelligence, a sharp beak, and half a dozen talons.  Fortunately they’re pretty good-natured creatures and their overriding instinct when faced with Unpleasantness is to run away, so mostly what happens is that there is a fair amount of herding and gesticulating and verbal abuse and then they’re in the cage and we can go. 

Turkeys secure, we headed off into town, calling from the road to wake Tabitha up so she could get to work on time.  Having three drivers, each with jobs, and only two cars is just one of those dances one does in modern America.  The turkeys did their periscope thing, sticking their heads up from the cage to look around now and then as we drove through the quiet early-morning streets of Our Little Town, and the chickens clucked and crowed, and don’t we sound like the pilot episode of some mid-season replacement comedy?  Why yes, yes we do.

Getting everything in was an experience – there was only one gate open at the Fairgrounds and it was diagonally across from the poultry barn, which meant getting in was a trick and getting out was a full magic show performed around all of the incoming pickups hauling trailers full of cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs – but the poultry barn itself always runs pretty smoothly and this year they had new cages for the turkeys and brand new table-benches in the common area for all the exhibitors' bins of stuff, so that was nice. 

All of the animal projects run pretty smoothly, actually.  People put a lot of time into making that happen, and you have to appreciate that.

Chickens, turkeys, and rabbits now secure, we went over to see the pigs.  Because this year Lauren was involved in the Swine project.

Fortunately we didn’t have to do any of the logistical tasks regarding Swine.  As noted earlier in this space, Lauren and her friend Autum had been borrowing pigs from a farmer named Andy, and he took care of getting the pigs to the Fair.  Three cheers for Andy, I say.  It takes a certain kind of generosity to do that sort of thing for people, and we’re grateful.

And then we were set up for the Fair.


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