The wee hours of the morning might find many local folks still in bed. But the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds bustles with activity, even if the humans there aren’t fully awake.
Judging doesn’t start until 8 or 8:30 a.m., but the walkways are already busy at 5 a.m. Wednesday. Children and teens pitch straw in the barns, walk their cows to the milking parlor and bathe their animals to prepare them for a day of showing.
The lowing of cows, the cawing of roosters and the low rumble of street cleaners can be heard from anywhere on the fairgrounds.
The smell of straw mixed with something a little more pungent fills the air, but that doesn’t seem to bug anyone. They’re all used to it.
Work starts early for many young exhibitors at the fair, which is something the average fairgoer might not know, many kids agreed.
There is one reprieve from the work: a hot breakfast from St. John Vianney Catholic Church’s food tent—the only breakfast tent on the fairgrounds.
Aaliyah Gunn, 11, wasn’t totally ready to start her day at 5 a.m.
While her mom filled water buckets and tended to the stirring dairy cows, Gunn, a member of Plymouth 4-H, caught a nap with her Brown Swiss spring calf, Norway.
Norway looked just as tired as Gunn as they snuggled together in the early morning sunlight.
But Gunn didn’t sleep for long. A reporter soon found her washing a sheep she planned to show at 8 a.m.
Hard work starts early
Spencer Franklin gets to the fairgrounds at 4:30 a.m. each morning to pitch his cows’ old straw bedding and replace it with fresh straw.
Franklin, 18, of Evansville FFA is one of many people who arrive at the fair at the crack of dawn to do the work that few fairgoers see.
He has to feed, wash and water the cows he takes care of, and others have to line up their cows for milking, he said.
Every now and then, a cow gets loose and starts to roam the fairgrounds, but the bovines generally don’t cause too many problems, Franklin said.
One last time
About 6 a.m. Wednesday, Alyssa Templeton, 19, of Evansville 4-H stood patiently in line with Charo, one of her three cows, waiting for her turn in the milking parlor.
The cows need to be milked a few times a day, the first time being early in the morning. The fairgrounds milking parlor has room for four cows, so there’s usually a line of kids and cows waiting at 6 a.m.
Templeton has been coming to the fair with her family for 13 years, and she’s been showing animals for 11 of them.
Last year was a special year for her. Her brother, William, won supreme champion and she won reserve champion awards for their dairy cows.
“That was a special moment to have with my brother,” she said.
While this year is Templeton’s last at the fair, she doesn’t plan to give up dairy. She’s studying dairy science at UW-Madison and hopes to be a dairy nutritionist.
Then she might get to sleep past her 3:25 a.m. wake-up time.
Some are easier than others
Getting up early isn’t the only painful requirement for showing animals at the fair. Getting ready with a stubborn animal can make some days harder than others, said Otis Johnson of Evansville FFA as he washed his beef cow, Risky.
Luckily for Johnson, Risky seemed to enjoy her morning shower. Others aren’t as cooperative, he said.
“Usually, the more times you work with them, and the more times you wash them, the calmer they are,” Johnson said.
Most people don’t realize the amount of work that goes into showing a steer or cow, he said.
Besides feeding, washing and general maintenance, Johnson has to clip his animals’ hooves, too.
To be sure, not every animal wants a pedicure.