As the week of the Fillmore County Fair draws near, families all over the county scramble to make sure everything is done right for their projects. Members of local 4-H clubs make sure their animals are trained, clean and ready to go and are preparing to make the transit from home to the fairgrounds as simple as possible.
When there are several kids in 4-H in one family, and each of them enters several different animals, life can get a little hectic and filled with chaos. Also consider chickens flying all over the yard and the many trips worth of ferrying animals to the fair. It can make a crazy combination.
Kevin and Kelly Biel of rural Harmony, living near Bristol Center, grew up in the 4-H program and passed that experience on the their children, Kayla, Kelsey, Krissie, Klaudia and Kenny. They are a part of the Harmony Helping Hands 4-H club in Harmony. For this family, the primary focus of the fair is in animal exhibits.
The two oldest, 14-year-old Kayla and 12-year-old Kelsey, have been active in 4-H for about five years. Both girls will be entering digital photography, dairy steers, crossbred steers, Jersey fall calves and bantam leghorn and Rhode Island chickens at the fair.
To add a little more variety to the mix, Kayla will also be showing a Holstein heifer and a Flemish giant rabbit.
Likewise, Kelsey's exhibits spread out to a beef calf, a Netherland dwarf rabbit and crafts and fine arts.
Ten-year-old Krissie has been in 4-H for two years after graduating from being a Cloverbud. She will enter a craft project, but Krissie will also be exhibiting a number of animals in the fair. Her plan is to show a fall calf Holstein heifer, a Rhode Island breed pen and a mini lop rabbit.
These three girls have their hands full since, on top of their exhibits, they are also participating in several interviews. Kelsey will be doing both beef and dairy interviews, while the other two will have dairy and rabbit interviews.
The two Cloverbuds, nine-year-old Klaudia and seven-year-old Kenny will be entering up to five projects to make and display at the fair, but they will also be showing some animals accompanied by a 4-Her. Klaudia will show a fairy garden, poultry, dairy and rabbits while Kenny will show only poultry and rabbits.
While the whole family is involved in 4-H in some respect, they have been expanding into areas they have not entered in before. Last year, that area was entering dairy steers.
"We really didn't know what we were getting into," Kelly stated. "We didn't have the right harnesses for the steers to be judged in. We thought rope was good enough. Luckily, the Witts from Mabel helped us out letting the girls use the leather harnesses and helping them know how to stand. We would not have made it through the day without their help. It turned out to be a great experience.”
Being involved in 4-H has created many opportunities for this family that they may not have had otherwise.
"It's fun to work with our own animals and participate in all the classes," Kelsey noted.
"It is a great experience and we are able to meet people and learn a lot from 4-H. And actually, the chaos the day before showing the animals is kind of fun," Kayla added.
One of the fun parts of working with the animals in preparation for the fair has to do with bathing them.
"Surprisingly, dairy steers like to get baths and the heifers just go right along with it. The chickens on the other hand…" noted Kelsey.
Their chickens have also been trained to become more accustomed to people and easily let themselves be caught. But somehow they know when they are about to get washed. Rather than sit and wait, most of those chickens hightail it out of there.
Training the larger animals to become accustomed to stop and stand with their heads up generally falls down to Kayla and Kelsey's shoulders.
"We put halters with a lead rope on them. They step on the lead rope and stop. Then we tie them up for a few hours, training them to stand there with their heads up," Kelsey noted. "We have a hard time the first few times, but by the end, they are like puppies."
What helps the girls train the animals is their ability to know how much they can handle.
"They are good at knowing how much they can work with the steers and how much they are able to handle themselves," Kelly stated.
As one would expect, each of the kids is good with animals and is willing to help others at the fair. Little Klaudia has blossomed and goes into her element with the animals.
"Klaudia is shy, but at her 4-H meeting she feels like she is in her safe element. She also answers questions in the poultry or rabbit barn and does very well with them. She broke her own calf while watching Kayla and Kelsey and it is just as tame as theirs," Kelly commented.
A few weeks prior to the fair, some of the girls end up going to camps, but once they return home they care even more for their animals.
"We wash them down now and then and get them friendly enough to walk up to people," Kayla said.
But the week of the fair creates a vast amount of chaos for the family. The final day, however, is something else. Getting everything ready for transportation, giving the animals their final cleaning and check up, plus having to balance regular day chores, is not the easiest thing to do.
"On Tuesday, we bring our animals down. It is pretty wild, but we go with the flow. The older girls do well making sure they have everything they need and the younger kids need. We all work together," Kelly said.
The day starts early with chores and loading up. After a 20- to 25-minute drive, the crew arrives at the fair. Kayla and Kelsey remain with the animals cleaning stalls, feeding them and watching over them while the rest of the family returns home to finish the chores.
"The younger kids feel like they have been gypped since they can't stay at the fair, but I am proud of the older girls because they are very respectful, they stay where they were told to stay and do what they were told to do," Kelly stated.
Of course, knowing there are adults around, willing to help out if need be, does take some of the pressure off the rest of the family.
"We are lucky to have families willing to help out everybody else,” said Kelly. “The Witts and the Earley girls from Spring Valley have all helped to make us feel more comfortable there.”
Each of the kids does a very good job with helping out. The older ones help out with the animals and the youngest ones play with the animals, taming them down to get used to a lot of people.
But Kelly and her husband are not the only ones noticing how much 4-H has shaped their kids' lives. The kids do too.
"Being in 4-H helps me get to know people and learn leadership. It helped get me started in agriculture," said Kayla, who hopes to have a future in agriculture when she grows up.
Kelsey has also been affected by 4-H in a positive way. She wants to become a large animal veterinarian when she grows up.
"4-H gets me involved in more things and I am more active in a lot of activities than other people who are not in 4-H," Kelsey noted.
"4-H helps me get to do stuff with the animals on the farm," Krissie commented.
Much of what they are entering into the fair this year is either something they already enjoyed or have been introduced to.
"I entered photography because when I see something cool, I want to take it. And since I did dairy judging in FFA, I thought it would be good to enter in dairy as well," Kayla related.
After she was introduced to showing a dairy calf, Kelsey decided she wanted to become more involved in that competition as well. But what is really new is entering a beef calf into competition, especially since they usually do dairy.
"I got a beef calf of my uncle's last November. My cousin wanted me to show it and I thought it would be cool to get into beef too," she added.
Other reasons are from simple observation and liking what was seen. Krissie took this approach in her steps of getting more involved in entering animals at the fair.
"I liked working with rabbits in Cloverbuds so I started doing them in the fair. And when Kelsey started entering the dairy heifer, I thought it was cool, so I started too," she said.
The Cloverbud Klaudia is interested in pigs. She received two pigs and thought they were really fun. She has taught them tricks and is looking forward to next year already when she will be able to enter animals on her own.
Those who go to the fair next week will have a bunch of interesting exhibits and shows to see from families like the Biels.
The Fillmore County Fair promises to be a lot of fun during those five days from July 22 to July 26. Make sure to stop and listen and enjoy the animal noises.