Youth ready for Brown County Fair
By Lea Kopke
BROWN COUNTY – Soon, the Brown County fairgrounds will again be filled with the sounds of live music, popping kettle corn, carnival rides and various farm animals.
Cattle, chickens, sheep, rabbits: These animals don’t come to the fair without serious preparation.
Melinda Pollen, Brown County 4-H youth development educator, said the majority of the club’s young members participate in the fair each year as their capstone or a project which demonstrates the knowledge a member gained over the year.
“It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate their learning and really exhibit their work,” she said, “and really get that public affirmation and the public viewership of the work that they do all year.”
Pollen said those with animal projects learn about the growth and feeding of their animals, the animal selection process, nutrition and feeding, animal health and welfare, and, as the fair gets closer, how to market their projects.
She said youth also learn about areas like leadership, communication and other life skills.
“The important part, from my perspective, is having young people find their sparks,” Pollen said. “What excites them, and what gets them excited about working with a project… So we can hopefully, within the 4-H program, continue to help them expand, and maybe even help them to build up some career and workforce skills along the way.”
To better understand what’s involved in preparing for the county fair, we spoke with local 4-H members about their experiences.
Heidi Beyer, a 16-year-old from Morrison, has shown animals from her family’s farm at the Brown County Fair for the past 12 years.
“I really like the dedication that goes into showing the animals,” Beyer said. “Getting them ready and how rewarding it is that you’re showing an animal that you’ve raised since it was born.”
She said she begins preparing for the fair in the middle of June when she starts walking her sheep to get them used to wearing a halter and give them more muscle mass.
Come August, Beyer starts getting her sheep used to cold water and shears them twice, the first a month before the fair and the second a couple of days before it begins.
Once at the fairgrounds, she said animals are weighed so they can be put into weight classes.
“We show on the Thursday of the Brown County Fair,” Beyer said. “In the morning we wake up and we give them a bath, we blow them off with a blow dryer and then we just make them look nice for the show.”
She said her favorite fair experience happened last year when there were more participants than usual due to the Brown County Fair being one of the few not shut down completely by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There were a lot of other really good sheep showmen that were at the fair,” Beyer said. “I didn’t get top in the class, but I beat one of them, and that was probably my favorite moment ever because they’re very good showmen.”
Dairy cattle, beef and rabbits
The Ossmann family’s three kids show animals from their De Pere farm every year at the Brown County Fair.
Missy, the youngest of the family at 11, said to prepare for the fair she must wash, feed and train her dairy cow.
She said to halter break a cow, she has to get it used to wearing a rope before she can walk it alongside her and make it more comfortable with her.
Missy said her favorite memory from her six years of showing animals was beating a yearling to take reserve grand champion two years ago at the Brown County Fair.
Emily, a 15-year-old, said for her 10th year in the Brown County fair, she’s showing a cow and rabbit.
She said training a cow to walk with a halter is like training a giant dog.
“(Showing animals) has taught me that you got to work through the hard times because it’s not always easy working with a 500-pound puppy,” Emily said. “But it pays off in the end.”
She said fair preparation starts with choosing the right animal in May or June.
“You have to be able to look at the animal and say what are they going to look like, maybe three months, four months down the road,” Emily said. “And you got to plan ahead for a lot of things.”
For the showmanship category, young people and their animals are judged based on how well they know each other, something 16-year-old Matthew said is determined by how much a participant walks their animal.
He said it’s important to take the time to gain its trust so it behaves well during competition.
“Especially (working on) calming them down, because there’s a lot of commotion at the state or county fair,” he said. “Getting them used to people coming up and petting them randomly.”
He said his favorite part of the county fair is the social aspect.
“Helping show people where their food comes from, teaching them about the (agricultural) industry,” Matthew said. “Meeting up with friends and stuff from around the county that I haven’t seen already.”
Each of the Ossmann children said they would like to continue working with animals when they graduate high school, whether that’s through owning a farm or in another capacity.
Rabbits and meat chickens
Taylor Langhoff, a 17-year-old from Luxemburg, said she’s been showing rabbits and meat chickens at the county fair for seven years.
Langhoff said to prepare for fairs she keeps her animals fed and clean, as well as works on decorations for her 4-H club’s area.
“We compete with other clubs by how well we’ve decorated and how clean our areas are,” she said. “We decorate and clean plenty to make sure the animals are clean, not stressed, and that they keep cool and don’t overheat.”
Langhoff said one of her favorite parts of the fair is getting to meet and speak with people from other clubs, and teach new members about her animals.
“It’s taught me to not be so much about the trophies and ribbons, and just enjoy the fun of being at the fair and seeing new people and seeing other types of rabbits,” she said.
The Brown County Fair runs from Aug. 18-22.
Ticket information can be found by CLICKING HERE.