ADDISON COUNTY — 4-H club members around the county were hard at work this week preparing for their biggest event of the year: Addison County Fair and Field Days.
During the week, the 350 4-H members in 18 clubs around the county will show their animals, compete in other events, and demonstrate their ongoing projects. In the lead-up to the next week, members were doing the final grooming and training of the animals that will soon fill the fairgrounds’ barns.
In Orwell last Friday, Riley and Gabrielle Ochs, 10 and 12, respectively, trimmed their sheep alongside Siri Swanson, 13.
That day, the three members of Orwell’s Ewe and Me Sheep Peeps 4-H group were hard at work with their trimmers as the sheep bleated, heads fastened into stanchions on a metal platform to keep them still.
Siri, who was hurrying to trim all of her sheep before she headed back to camp for a week, said she’s looking forward to Field Days, where she’ll spend much of the week preparing for competition. That, she said, is the payoff for all the hard work.
“Once I’m in the show ring, that’s the best feeling, whether you come in first or last,” said Siri.
Once she returns from camp, Siri will join the other county 4-H members in last-minute preparations before heading to Field Days, where they will meet other 4-H members and their animals, display projects in the youth exhibition hall and work at the Addison County Youth food stand, the Dusty Chuck — and, said Martha Seifert, the county 4-H educator, probably sleeping very little, since there are so many other things to do.
Seifert said for most 4-H members, the week of Field Days “is pretty much a full-time job.”
The main 4-H showing events are “Fitting and Showmanship” and “Conformation.” The first evaluates competitors based on their composure while leading an animal around the ring, and the second judges the animals.
Each 4-H group has its own events during the week, too. Members with sheep can compete in a wool-blocking contest or a special show where the sheep must be led by someone dressed in wool clothing.
Dairy members can compete to trim an animal, and members in the horse shows can participate in a variety of riding competitions. Groups that do community service often present projects at the youth exhibition hall.
Back in Orwell, Riley, Gabrielle and Siri, who have all been 4-H members for four years, were also looking forward to the open show, where anyone can show an animal. They were especially enthusiastic about the costume show, where members dress up in costumes and show their animals.
Most of all, though, they were sizing up their animals and deciding which ones needed the most practice being led before they went in front of the crowd.
“The judges look for the best sheep,” said Gabrielle, “but it’s also how you act.”
All three girls plan to show five or six sheep, picked out carefully from the herd of sheep at the Ochs’s house. Gabrielle was trimming Sunshine, who took a first-place ribbon at last year’s fair. Both Gabrielle and Riley were also planning to show new animals. Riley said she would need to practice leading Oreo, a black lamb, before Field Days — he strained while being put into the stanchion for the first time.
Riley said the friendly competition is her favorite part of showing sheep — she’s acquired the nickname “The Silent Assassin” over the course of her time in 4-H.
That’s not the only reason, though, according to a smiling Riley.
“I like how fluffy they are,” she said.
Gabrielle said for her, showing animals is the natural end to her work.
“It’s knowing that I did my best,” she said. “It’s fun to know that all the work I’ve done has paid off, and if I don’t do the work, it shows.”
While members of most 4-H groups around the county spend their time on their farms or the farm of an animal they’ve leased, the Weybridge Willing Workers 4-H club spends the summer caring for all of the group’s cows together at the same Weybridge barn.
Group leader Audra Ouellette said the cows move into their new barn at the very start of summer vacation, and the 11 families in the group divide up daily chores to take care of the herd, in addition to training and grooming the cows they plan to show at Field Days. Only two of the families in the group, which nearly doubled from last year to this one, live on farms — the rest, she said, learn as they go.
On Tuesday, though, group members there were doing anything but routine chores. Instead, they walked with their cows, trimmed their coats, and inspected injuries. This weekend, said Ouellette, will be filled with nonstop final preparations, especially for the newest members as they learn to prepare for showing their animals.
Beside the barn, Addy Parsons, 12, watched Claire the cow in concern as her father, Tim, soaked a hoof in Epsom salt.
“She’s been limping for a while now,” said Addy.
With some attention and care for the injury, she said she was hoping the limp would go away within the week. Otherwise, she said, she would probably have to show an alternate cow.
Addy has been a 4-H member for six years, and for two years before that she participated in the Clover Buds, the county group for 5- to 7-year-olds. She said she enjoys working with her 4-H group for the summer and going to Field Days together.
“I like how much of a group we are,” she said.
Addy’s sister Maya, 14, stood nearby with her cow, Elizabeth, who had also developed a slight limp in recent days. Maya said she’s had cows develop problems in the past, several years having to show a cow that wasn’t the one she trained. This year, she’s hoping for the best, since she said she gets along very well with Elizabeth.
“She doesn’t have the best conformation, but she’s the one I picked,” she said. “Once you get to know your cow, it’s really nice.”
Maya said over the next week she’ll be trimming and washing Elizabeth, and just before her events she’ll spike up the top line of fur with a blow dryer and some heavy-duty hairspray.
“My goal is just to have fun with it,” she said.
On the other side of the barn, Matthew Ouellette, 12, stood with Margarita, a yearling Jersey.
“I really like her,” he said, stroking her fur. “She’s kind of stubborn.”
He said if he had to pick a favorite part of Field Days, it would be lying with the cows in the 4-H barn.
“But I like everything about it,” he said.
That was good news for Emma Huestis, 9, who is heading into her first year showing a cow at Field Days.
“I’m excited and nervous,” she said.
She chose her cow, Mandy, for her underbite.
“It looks funny when she puts her jaw up,” she said with a laugh, pointing to the small cow grazing next to her.
The name Mandy, she said, is short for “Mandible.”
So far, Emma has jumped right into the whirlwind of brushing and washing and practicing with the leather halter that Mandy will wear during the show. All the work so far has built up the anticipation for next week, when Emma and her fellow Willing Workers will take the stage.
“It’s been awesome,” she said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at email@example.com.