By Kim Buddington
Just last week, I went to a concert at the Ashland County Fair, featuring Country singer Craig Morgan and his band. The weather couldn’t have been better that night for an outdoor show, and the crowd was great. I got to enjoy many of his well-known hits played live- songs like, “That’s What I Love About Sunday,” “Redneck Yacht Club,” “International Harvester,” “Little Bit of Life,” and so on.
They played some new material as well, which was great. But as I listened and tapped my foot along to these songs I know so well, I was struck by something. I found myself becoming emotional, even choked up a time or two.
It’s a collective experience for most, I believe. The power of music has a way of taking us back in time, does it not? We connect certain songs to specific people, places, and events. The songs I mentioned were all played quite frequently by radio stations a few years back…a few years back when I was in 4-H, raising and showing goats and rabbits and exhibiting them at county fairs and shows all summer. Those songs would keep us company through the airwaves as we traveled with livestock in tow at 4 o’clock in the morning. Or they were played over loudspeakers on the midway as we took a walk to catch a little break from the barn after a busy show day. That just so happened to be the “soundtrack” during these defining years of my youth.
I am forever thankful to have had the opportunity to grow up being a “fair kid.” If you also grew up putting hours of work, along with blood, sweat, and tears into your livestock projects, you can probably relate. Folks who haven’t had the experience may not get it.
While it certainly has its place in the overall atmosphere and experience of a fair, the first thing that comes to mind for me isn’t the rides or the funnel cakes. Instead, it’s the cattle barns or the smell of dandruff shampoo mixed with the aroma of my freshly washed goats as I prep them for the show. Sure, those games on the midway may be a challenge, but have you ever shown dairy animals and played the game of trying to keep your snowy white show clothes…um, white? Or trying to keep the barn aisles neat and tidy all day and rearranging the chrysanthemum plants multiple times to outsmart the goats so they can’t eat them- don’t the little rascals know the flowers are decorations, not snacks?!?!
Between the laughs and the tears, the long days and the short nights, raising and showing livestock taught me a lot of valuable things at a young age. I got to witness the miracle of birth and the beauty of life. But with that came experiencing the reality of death, and aiding in the relief of suffering when needed. I learned about winning and losing, about helping others, keeping records, managing money, and working hard. I learned that some people are just always going to be challenging to deal with, but it’s a waste to let them ruin your day completely. At the end of the day, at least make sure you did your best.
There are some folks out there today who think children should not grow up raising and showing livestock (especially market animals.) Some even that feel livestock displays at the county fair should be done away with altogether. Many have grown up with little to no contact with production agriculture and live in a very different or even virtual reality.
I’m not going to go too far into it here, but everyone is entitled to deciding for themselves if they want to eat meat or not. That being said though, I think the life lessons and values that children learn through raising and exhibiting livestock are precious, especially for today’s generation. I think it is crucial to do everything we can to support our local fairs and youth agricultural education programs. The local fair might be the only time and place all year that some people will get to experience agriculture hands-on. So we need to make a good impression and answer any questions respectfully and honestly.
I’m not sure where I’d be today if I didn’t have these experiences. I discovered my passion for agriculture this way, and I’m so glad I did. The support of my family had a lot to do with it. I’m indebted to my parents for their backing of my livestock raising projects. So Thank you Mom and Dad for the countless hours you gave up, the aggravation I caused at times, and being willing to have your hard-earned money turned into feed for animals, fuel for us, (you know, the countless Dunkin’ Donuts stops…) fuel for the old white van, and much more.
Or the year you saved the day, Dad. With some quick thinking, zip ties, and pulling the spare tire cover from the truck of your car to use as an emergency barrier when my best milking doe got assigned (unexpectedly and at the last minute) to a pen next to her thirsty kid who really didn’t like the idea of being weaned! I can’t fully express in words what all of this meant to me, and I hope you have a lot of good memories too.
As night fell over the fairgrounds after the concert, the livestock barns ware still very much lit up and a bustle of activity. Young people were fitting, feeding, and walking their animals- as well as goofing around and having a good time with friends. I currently live 500 + miles away from New England and New York where I exhibited my rabbits and goats as a kid, and that night I couldn’t help but wish for a minute that I was back in 4-H, showing my animals too.
Obviously, I can’t go back in time, but I do know that if I ever have kids of my own one day, I want them to have the experience of showing livestock. It’s not always glamorous or easy, but it’s a wonderful way to grow up, and they’ll have my support all the way. And I hope that one day when they are grown, they’ll look back fondly and appreciate those fair filled summers where it all started.