Garden Diary - August 2013

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Thursday, 22 August 2013
A Morning at the Fair

It's time, time for the Hunterdon County 4-H Fair and Agricultural Show at the fair grounds in Ringoes, New Jersey. Livestock from cows and horses, sheep and goats, poultry and rabbits. Agricultural exhibits from all the usual vegetables to pickles and preserves, hay bales, baked goods and more. The Northwest Jersey Beekeepers have a competitive show and honey for sale. We always go to the fair, and today's the day.


It's not as crowded as usual. The Midway doesn't have the usual throng of visitors.
Maybe it is the weather - there are some big clouds piling up.

That's O.K. I lay out my route. Start in the goat barn. Continue on to the sheep barn. Quick pass through the horse barn and on to the cow barn. That will put me relatively close to the agricultural exhibits. After which, I can duck through the dog club tent, and sprint to the poultry tent. So even if it does start to rain I'll be mostly under cover. Paul saunters off on his own. We'll meet in a couple of hours, around noon, for lunch.One thing fairs have is food - barbecue, souvlaki, soft pretzels, hot dogs, and more.

There are several 4-H goat clubs. The fair has classes in both showmanship and for breeds: meat goats such as Boer, fiber goats like Angora, and milk goats such as Nubian and La Mancha.

The goats were all beautifully groomed, and the handlers dressed in white pants and shirts. Most of the goats were very mannerly, all except one younger animal who would start to prance as they circled the ring. This showmanship class had an interesting aspect. At a certain point the judge had each handler move forward by one goat, so they would be showing an unfamiliar animal.

There are bleachers set up so the audience can get a good view of the show ring. What I really enjoy is walking through the barn and seeing all the different goats in their pens.

Here's a Boer goat

and a very charming Angora.

At the far end of the goat barn they were weighing in for the next class.

It's clear that there's a real bond between these children and their animals.

The Garden State Sheep Breeders Association will have its huge Sheep and Fiber Show here at the fairgrounds on September 7th & 8th. So I'm sort of rushing through the sheep barn.

Sheep for show are often kept jacketed so their fleece will remain clean.

Heretofore I've only seen utilitarian covers. Today there are form-fitting jackets in snazzy colors

and even this stylish zebra striped number.

I reach the cow barn in time for the final judging of this class. The judge winnowed down to three, then made his choice. Here's the happy handler with her Grand Champion Jersey heifer. He explained what made this animal better than the reserve grand champion, and that the third, younger heifer would, with time, grow into a fine cow.

The cows are primped and polished and treated like the fashionable models of their breed that they are. Here a Holstein has her tail combed out and fluffed up. Hooves will be oiled. A clean damp cloth wiped over the coat removes any scrap of straw or dirt. The handler had two friends helping her with prepping her cow for the show ring.

This is a big class, 23 entries of heifers born this year between March 1st and May 31st. Many competitors do live on a family dairy farm. What's very nice, and generous, is that some of the farmers rent out heifers so that children whose family are not farmers can come to the farm, learn to care for an animal, grooming it, train in handling, and then compete in the fair.

Back end of a mature Holstein cow. I think she's been milked not too long ago. There are four milking machines at one end of the cow barn. You cannot leave a cow unmilked even for a day.

The cows are very calm, often relaxed and laying down on their nice straw bed, chewing their cud.

This one seems convinced that the hay outside the barn must be tastier than what's inside.

There are a few llamas and alpacas on display.

There are so many entries this year that the poultry and waterfowl, rabbit, small animals (that's Guinea pigs etc) area had a spillover tent. As you might expect the poultry is mostly chickens, some ducks, a few pigeons. There's an incubator with hatching eggs and some fluffy yellow chicks that children are invited to hold - over a table, no accidental dropping / escapes.

This man had the calmest rooster I have ever seen, a Barred Rock just hanging out in his lap, enjoying a day at the fair. Maybe it was hypnotized. Can you hypnotize a chicken?

Lots of familiar breeds and some really standout fancies, like this white crested cuckoo Polish cockerel. With that froo-froo topknot he looks like a rock star. And I wonder how well he can peer through all those exuberant feathers.

A great day at the fair, and I have more yet to see.

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