We're right in the middle of county fair season in the Capital Region. For a lot of people, that means rides on the Ferris wheel, games, and food on a stick.
But for some kids the county fair is the culmination of months, even years, of hard work. It's a step toward a future career. It's an opportunity to compete. It's a chance to win a ribbon.
What makes a cow "prizewinning?"
That's just not something you're expected to know as a Capital Region resident. But ask a kid at a local 4H show and they can tell you: a healthy cow with a good diet, a sturdy build and a clean hide, among other things.
At the Altamont Fair this past Friday, teens from around the Capital Region brought their best cattle to show at competition. They had been working to raise these animals for months, even years. And it's a scene that's repeated throughout fair season at the region's many county fairs.
"We've got about 24 4-H kids this year and cows in almost every category," said Kathy Stanton, the cattle superintendent for the Altamont Fair. "The judge is certified and goes to school for this. They're trained to know what a cow should look like, depending on the breed, and the quality of the product" (either dairy or beef).
The prizewinning cattle can then go on to the State Fair, and a national fair in Wisconsin, if their owner chooses. And like many of the kids that come from long lines of farmers, many of these cattle come from long lines of prizewinners.
But the 4-H competitors are also judged on showmanship. That means that the handler is judged along with their animal and how they interact together. The teens must be clean, well-dressed, and move well with their animal. They also have to make sure their animal is clean -- we're talking q-tipping their ears.
"These kids love their animals. They know what they're used for and what they're here for and have great respect for them," said Stanton, "but they also love them."
Here are some of the competitors from this past Friday's Beef Show at Altamont:
Hannah VanWie, 18, Clarksville
Prickers, 2 year-old Brown Swiss
How did you get matched up with Prickers?
"Her mother, Palace, was a Best in Show winner, so when she had Prickers, my mom knew she would be a good cow for me. She's sassy, I think that's why we work well together."
What do you like about doing these shows?
"I've been doing it since I was 12 and my mom and dad are really proud of me. It takes really hard work and a lot of time and I like that. I'm going to take over the youngstock at my family's farm when I'm done with school."
What are you hoping to win this weekend?
"I'm going into Overall Best in Showmanship for the whole fair tomorrow. That's when I have to show out of my element and show the judge I can handle myself. So I have to find someone with a goat, a rabbit, a dairy cow -- all the other animals -- and talk them into letting me show their animal."
Amanda Terrell, Rensselaerville
Ila, Hereford calf
How long have you been in 4-H?
"I've been doing this for nine years. I only started working with Ila in January though."
Have you learned a lot about her personality?
"Oh yeah, she's a pain - she doesn't like to be pet, she'll kick sometimes, she'll head butt you - but sometimes she's very loving."
Do you want to go into farming when you grow up?
"Yeah, I want to have my own big beef farm someday. Just like the Trowbridge Farm in Ghent."
What are you hoping to win this weekend?
"Well I already won two blue ribbons! But honestly, with her, I'd be happy to walk away with anything."
Hunter Smith, 7 (or 6 3/4), East Berne, NY
Chloe, 6 month-old Angus
Won Reserve Champion Angus
Why did you join the 4-H Club?
"Because it's fun to show cows!"
What's your favorite thing about Chloe?
"She's good! And sometimes she licks."
Do you want to be a farmer when you grow up?
Danielle Salisbury, 17, Greenville, NY
Black Magic, 2 year-old Simmental
Won First Place Simmental and Best Female
What do you want to do when you grow up?
"I grew up around cows since my grandfather and father raised them, but I want to be a racehorse trainer or something equestrian."
Do you see her as a pet?
"Oh yeah, we'll never sell her. She'll stay on our farm for the rest of her life."
Have you gotten to know her personality?
"Yeah she's moody, just like us. But she's really a gentle giant. She just doesn't realize how big she is -- she doesn't know her own strength."
What do you like about these shows?
"I've been doing this since I was 12 and I love it. I get to come up here and meet my friends and spend the whole week with them. These guys are like my second family."
There are more large format photos above from the show -- click or scroll all the way up.
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