Pigs are clean, sheep are dumb
EAGLE COUNTY The days when most Eagle Countians knew the difference between a heifer and steer are probably over. But just because the countys agricultural roots have been pushed aside for modern ski lifts and million-dollar condos, doesnt mean todays residents cant enjoy a day at a good, old-fashioned county fair, veteran fair goers say.Still, a crash-course in fair-watching might be a good idea for relative newcomers. Especially for those who live at the east end of the county, like Eagle-Vail resident Summer Yurga. I dont know much about fairs, Yurga said. I grew up in Chicago, and there arent a lot of farms there.Heather Gerard knows plenty about fairs, though. A ranchers wife and 4-H mom, Gerard has seen her share of calf roping and hog showing. She was at the Eagle County Fairgrounds earlier this week, where several 4-H kids gathered to groom their animals by the exhibition hall. Over grunts, whinnies and moos, Gerard gave an insiders description of what to look for at the fair and where to have the most fun.
The big draw at the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo is the rodeo, a traveling group of professional bull riders, calf ropers and the like that risk life and limb to entertain local crowds. Local residents, however, are the stars at the fair. Even more notably, local kids usually steal the show.Their biggest event? Showing animals. Kids involved in 4-H spend a year training and caring for an animal of their choosing in hopes of making it the finest looking and acting animal of its species at the county fair. The animals are washed, blow-dried and brushed. On this particular day, several of the kids had brought their animals over to trim the hooves. With a heifer or steer, that meant strapping the animal onto a platform, turning the animal on its side and trimming the hooves with a rapidly spinning, metal, circular file. When its show time, the animals on display are some of the cleanest barnyard animals around. I mean, if that judge can see dirt on there, youre docked, Gerard said. The kids are being judged, too. During the animal shows, the child showing the animal should be well-dressed, clean and in complete control of their animal. Its kind of like a beauty-contest-meets-dance-competition. To that end, the kids invest tons of time working with their animal, keeping it well-groomed and well-fed so that the animal is at an appropriate weight, Gerard said. Contrary to popular belief, hogs actually are easier to keep clean. Sheep are hard to work with, as are heifers and steers, she said. Gerards oldest daughter, Laura, is entering a steer and a pig into this years fair. Showing pigs are the most fun, she said. They are the easiest thing to do, she said. They are so cute and fun to work with.The kids are allowed to put three of their highest-placing animals up to be sold, Gerard said. On Aug. 6, local residents and companies fill the exhibition hall to bid on the animals placed up for market. The children get to keep the money they make. Most save it for college, Gerard said. When youre in this for 11 or 12 years, it really helps, she said.
The horse shows allow riders to strut their stuff. Kensie Scott, a Burns teenager who competes in several horse riding competitions, said the judging criteria is much the same as that during the animal shows.Basically, you are trying to convince the judge that your horse is the best horse out there, she said. Judges want a good-looking horse, and good-looking rider. The girls who ride the horses need to be dressed in nice jeans, crisply ironed shirts and look like they are having a good time. And dont bother to fake it, Laura said. If your pretending to smile, (the judges) will know, she said. While the English and Western Horse Shows (see glossary) are largely about style and appearance, the Working Horse Show is about finesse. Contestants win by quickly completing tasks like rounding up and separating cows marked with a specific number, said Clayton Gerard, another of the Gerard kin. Team roping is another crowd-pleaser. In that event, a calf comes bursting out of a chute and two nimble-footed contestants have to catch it. You have two guys, a healer and the header, Clayton said. The header catches the calf and turns it, and the healer tries to catch both the back legs and then they stretch it.Its fun to watch and fun to do, too, Clayton said. He and his siblings do it all the time back at the Gerard ranch, he said.
All 4-H students are required to display an exhibit. It can range in topic from fly-fishing to sewing, but the point is the kids are being judged on their research and public speaking skills, Gerard said. While many of the fair events are catered to 4-H students, some are open to anyone. Kids can show off their artistic abilities with the vegetable sculpting contest. Parents can show off their kids in the pretty baby contest. Theres also a salsa contest, all sorts of vegetable and fruit contests (moldy produce need not apply), as well as competitions where local tailors, knitters, photographers and woodworkers can put their best crafts forward. Gerard suggests that people just come on down and walk around. Theyll find something worth watching. This is a family gathering, Gerard said. This is everyone you havent seen all year, and were here.Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado