By Matt Reese and Dale Minyo
Young people love to connect with animals though agriculture, which is proven true time and again with a visit to a county fair. Though the show ring may be full, the exhibitors are typically only a very small representation of the young people in the community. Many young people do not have the ability to take animals to the fair for a host of reasons, but that does not mean they have no interest.
With this in mind, the 2022 Madison County Fair is building on an effort that began last year with the Livestock 101 show. This year’s Livestock 101 show will be held Friday, July 15. Participation is free for those 17 and under to exhibit a livestock project. Each participant may select the species/project of their choice. Madison County youth exhibitors representing each species area will serve as coaches, interacting with participants and providing guidance before and during the show.
In 2021, Lydia Roseberry had the opportunity to show a rabbit for the first time at the fair, with the help of an experienced junior exhibitor. Lydia’s parents encouraged her to try the Livestock 101 program last year because of her love for animals, rabbits in particular.
“I was so excited and I love bunnies, but it was really hard,” Roseberry said. “The judging was hard because there was a lot of tough competition.”
This year Roseberry will be a 7th grader and plans to start working toward a career as a veterinarian. As a result of her success last year, she brought a New Zealand breeding rabbit to the 2022 Madison County Fair.
“I learned that taking care of rabbits is hard but fun. I had to get up and feed and water them. My sister got to help. She loves rabbits and she will do a project next year with rabbits,” she said. “Try it and if you don’t like it, try to find a different project. If you do like it, keep going.”
Eighth grader Carlee Mason won a pig last year through Livestock 101 and is selling that market project this year, with hopes of buying another pig to show next year. Mason had a steep learning curve this year but really enjoyed the experience.
“Anyone who is interested should try to show an animal at the fair because it is really fun,” Mason said.
The inspiration for the unique idea behind Livestock 101 came from a surprising source, said Paul Gross, Madison County Senior Fair Board president. Last year, heading into the first Livestock 101 event, Gross talked about how the idea originated.
“I am in the senior living business. I have some assisted living facilities. I was talking with a resident in her 90s. I try to figure out what makes each of those individuals tick. They all have really storied careers in some capacity or another. This lady in her 90s was, let’s say, unenthused to be at my senior living facility. I asked her what she was really good at. She said, ‘What I’m really good at is clipping goats.’ That is about the last thing I expected to hear. I said, ‘Really? Have you ever shown goats at the fair?’ She said, ‘Have I ever shown at the fair? I’ve had 28 state fair champions and I’ve shown all over the United States.’
“I asked if her family was in the goat business. She said, ‘No not at all.’ She used to be a city kid but there was a program in Union County back in the 1950s and if you wanted to show at the fair the goat association gave you a free goat. She said, ‘Me and my sister went down and picked up a goat and we have been showing ever since.’ That was really the inspiration for me to try to replicate that in our own way in Madison County. I thought it was a great concept so we took it and ran with it.”
Gross was not sure what to expect when he initially brought up the idea with the Ag Society, but was really pleased with the response.
“In my business career I always say that none of us are as smart as all of us. This is a great tribute to that saying. Key leaders and others interested in the different species got enthused by it. They thought the 4-H members would welcome it and everybody wants to grow the numbers inside the program. I think this is going to do just that. It was a terrific collaboration within the county,” Gross said. “It’s a program designed to help kids who maybe live in the city or don’t have the ability to keep an animal at home to still participate in the county fair through a process where they are paired up with 4-H or FFA member that is showing at the fair. Those 4-H and FFA members mentor the novice individual and teach them how to show. Then they actually go in and show that alpaca, horse, steer, pig, goat, lamb, poultry, or rabbit. They get an opportunity to show and compete, complete with ribbons and prizes and things of that nature. It is open to all youth 17 and under — they do not have to be a resident of Madison County.”
The plan was and is for Livestock 101 to provide new opportunities for young people to get involved with showing livestock and offer leadership opportunities for those with experience in the show ring.
“I am equally excited about getting our current 4-Hers in a position to develop their leadership skills as I am getting the other kids introduced to the program. Anyone who has been a part of 4-H or FFA understands how it altered most of our lives in a positive or meaningful way. We have an opportunity to make it a better experience as well for our current 4-Hers with this,” Gross said. “Hopefully we can introduce new kids to the program that will show at the fair with their own projects in years to come.”
For more information, visit https://madisoncountyfairoh.com/livestock-101.