State Fair and Searing Heat

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


We’ve finally returned home from our hectic week at the state fair, so I thought I’d bring you all up to date on what’s been going on.

We arrived at the state fairgrounds about 7:30 last Tuesday morning, having left home at midnight. The drive up the I-5, through the center of California’s agricultural region, was easy and uneventful. It was oddly serene and calming being on the road in the middle of the night, just our truck and little trailer full of lambs sharing the open road with hundreds of semi trucks on their way to somewhere.

We hit Sacramento and its tangle of freeways. This country girl hates big cities and big city traffic even more! The spider web of interchanges coupled with rush hour traffic resulted in a few missed exits. But, after a short tour of town we finally made our way to the back of the fairgrounds where the livestock entrance is located.

Trailers had been arriving since daybreak, lining the small dirt road leading to the livestock barns. Areas were set up for each species so animals could be vet checked before entering the barn. It only took a few minutes before a group of vet students from a local university came to our trailer.

One…Two…Three…Four…Five, one at a time we unloaded lambs so the students could check them over for contagious livestock diseases or conditions. The final word – PASS – on all five. Brianne and I let out a huge sigh of relief. I think this is the most stressful part of the whole affair.

Once we were given the go ahead we found our pens on the barn chart and headed over to check them out. We were penned in the tents outside, which was a relief. In the hot summer weather of the Sacramento valley temps cam climb to over 100 and the main barn with its limited doorways and poor ventilation can be unbearable; hard on humans and animals alike. We were glad to be outside where, at least, there was a chance of getting a slight breeze off the delta that lies just behind the fairgrounds.

Hot weather or not, our goal was to unload road weary animals and settle them in as fast as possible, get them food and water so they kept their condition for the coming shows. Even though this is hard work and we’ve done it a thousand times I never tire of watching the kids we show with. Like soldiers with a single minded purpose they unload tack, feed, supplies, equipment and animals with military precision. It’s a scenario that’s played out at every show of the season.

Once that job was complete we turned our heads to taking care of us. In the livestock world, animals, their care and comfort always comes before that of its owners. But, it was our turn to get a drink and a bite to eat before checking into our hotel and getting some rest.

Wednesday started early. First we had weigh-in so the show staff could divide the animals into classes by their weight and make sure the animals were in the proper breed class. The line was long so I had Brianne wash and shear one of her lambs while she waited for a break in the rush. Show lambs are not shown in full fleece, but rather slick sheared close so that the judge can see their muscling. Brianne had already washed and rough sheared all the lambs at home so the job was quick. When there was finally a break in the line she made her way over to the arena to have each animal weighed. The weights were good and she was pleased with the classes she’ll be in, but the inspector questions the breed classes we have entered them in. After a short discussion and some back and forth negotiations, two of the lambs were switched to other breed classes. Although I don’t wholly agree with the change I am glad that none of the lambs have been disqualified. Brianne of course was just happy to be there and showing all the lambs she has raised.< state-fair-sheep

Now the show prep begins in earnest. Brianne has one lamb sheared and ready for show, but four others wait their turn. The day was getting hotter by the hour and it began to take its toll on us. We are not use to this kind of inland heat. Our coastal days start with fog and end with ocean breezes. We rarely have days over 90 much less over 100. As the day wore on Brianne was a trooper. One by one she walked each lamb over to the wash racks, which gave her a cool splash from the heat. I encouraged her to take her time shearing so she didn’t over heat. By late afternoon she had finished two more – washed, sheared, trimmed hooves, groomed leg wool and trimmed faces – each one came off the grooming table and into their protective blanket. Since lambs are so closely shorn they are easily scratched or cut. The blankets act as a protective barrier.

By mid-afternoon it was time to switch gears. Because of the heat many of the classes start late in the afternoon and extend into the evening. Aside from weighing-in and grooming, Wednesday was also showmanship day. This is a class where the exhibitor gets to show off their animal handling skills and knowledge. By 3PM the barn was a buzz of activity as showmen got ready to enter the ring. We waited anxiously for Brianne’s class to be called. There are three heats and the judge took 6 showmen from each heat for a final drive. Brianne made “the cut” and was thrilled. State fair is attended by the best of the best throughout the state. Just making the cut is a big deal. She had little time to rest though. The final drive began quickly and the judge put each showman through their paces. 30 then 40 minutes passed before the judge placed the top ten showmen. Brianne places 7th. Very respectable considering the competition. When her name is called friends hoop and howler from ringside. They are happy for her.

We returned to the pens to feed, water and clean up a bit before heading out to dinner. It was a long day, but a good day. We looked forward to Thursday – Market Day.

We arrived at the barns early Thursday morning. This is the busiest day of the week and Brianne still had lots of work ahead of her. The market classes started at 8AM. They were prompt and the judge was fast. He whips through the first breed division in less than 30 minutes. Brianne still has two more lambs to groom and five to show. She was in almost every breed division and the day started out hectic. A friend, who was only showing breeding sheep, came over to lend a hand. We ferried Brianne and each lamb back and forth from the pens to the show ring. One after another her lambs were judged against all the others. When the show was over she had placed in the top of each class. Her 1st place lamb got to compete for champion of the division, but that distinction would go to a lamb from another class.

We were hot and sweaty; tired and hungry. We made a good showing that day, but all we thought about were cool showers and comfy beds. We were exhausted.

The rest of the week was slow for us. Most classes on Friday and Saturday revolved around hogs and cattle. The break gave us time to visit exhibit buildings, view displays and visit with friends. Most people think showing livestock is all about winning the competition, but for us it’s about spending time together, doing something we enjoy with people we like being around. We’re not “win at all cost” kind of people. We are country girls who like going to fairs and showing off our animals.

state-fair-sheep closeup

We had mixed feelings about the last day; it was a long, hot week where temps reached 104. The days were busy, but with the help of friends and a steadfast purpose we got the job done. The same military precision that began the week plays back in reverse as everyone packed to go home. After another long drive we arrived home Sunday night just before mid-night. We woke the next morning to our familiar FOG. We are home and our little farm is complete with a barn full of lambs.

Leave a Reply