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Seven-year-old Kennedy Paul from Milton rests on Connor Busse's Jersey cow Tuesday at the Rock County 4-H Fair in Janesville. Busse is a member of Harmony 4-H.

JANESVILLE

The road to journalism hell is paved with good intentions, extra soft bunnies and a rooster with a comb-over.

I intended to write a Rock County 4-H Fair diary. You know the kind of thing: 10:30 a.m., tour pig barn and meet award-winning Hampshire; 11 a.m., eat corn dog and speculate about amount of actual pork encased in cornmeal topping.

But I was distracted by the fascinating world of chickens, cows and Flemish giants and lost track of time. Instead of a tour of the grounds and all its attractions, you’ll get a tour of the first four barns I found interesting.

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A line forms for sheep weigh-ins Tuesday at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds.

Sheep

Entering through Gate 4, I immediately encountered Dalissa Moser, 17, of Clinton FFA, finishing up some sheep grooming. Leroy the sheep was standing still, and Moser said it’s because he gets the sheep equivalent of a wash and set on a regular basis. She left the wool on top of his head just a little bit longer, and it’s a good look for him. Moser washes him with Ivory soap, just like a sweater.

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Nick Lambert and his son, Tyler Lambert, right, put a band on a chicken Tuesday at the Rock County 4-H Fair.

Poultry

If a chicken is in the “continental cockerel” class, shouldn’t it look like other young roosters in its class? Caleb Baker’s birds in this class have feathers ranging from deep orange red to brown. Two pens down, Joshua Banasik’s continental entry has orange, red and shimmering green feathers. It’s not a color you’d expect to find in nature.

Fortunately, Hannah Pautsch, 17, of Avon 4-H was there to explain.

“It depends on the breed,” Pautsch said. “Like for Polish, they can be any color, they just have to have the poof on their heads.”

The “poof,” or crest, springs out like a hat worn by a member of the royal family. Alternatively, they look like they might be roadies with a metal band.

Silkies must also have five toes. Other breeds have only four.

While you’re in the poultry barn, don’t miss the birds with the frizzle feathers. These are feathers that grow out and curl away from the bird’s body. It’s like a full body comb-over, with everything facing forward.

One of the challenges of showing a chicken or rooster is getting it clean for the show.

“It’s like giving a cat a bath,” Pautsch said.

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A Flemish Giant lays at the edge of his cage Tuesday at the Rock County 4-H Fair.

Rabbits

And speaking of breed standards, the Flemish giants are in the cages closest to the entrance of the rabbit barn. Their breed standards include ears that must be at least 5¾ inches long, bodies a minimum of 20 inches long and weight of at least 11 pounds.

The Flemish giants we saw were much longer, heavier and had ears that looked like they belonged on a full-grown Jersey cow.

But again, the barn was filled with rabbits who shared breed names but looked very different.

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Alexis Hooper of Plymouth 4-H explains how rabbits are judged Tuesday at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds. Her rabbit, Phillip, is a senior Holland lop.

Alexis Hooper, 13, of Plymouth 4-H was able to help.

Judges want to see a calm animal that can sit up and display the best of its characteristics. Hooper’s senior Holland Siamese sat up nicely when Hooper lifted her chin, despite the presence of so many strangers.

Hooper is also showing a broken chinchilla rex, a rabbit with Holstein-patterned fur.

For this breed, 40 of 100 points are awarded for the softness of its coat.

Hooper’s rabbit had velvety soft fur, like the most expensive mink coat imaginable.

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Twelve-year-old Connor Busse with Harmony 4-H stands with his Jersey cow Tuesday at the Rock County 4-H Fair.

Dairy

Connor Busse 12, is showing a Jersey heifer with ears at least as large as a Flemish giant. The Harmony 4-H member said he had done most of the show preparation himself, trimming her hair along the body and topline.

“I didn’t do her head,” Busse said. “She doesn’t like her head touched.”

He’s going to be in showmanship, which means he’ll have to show the judge that he’s worked with the animal consistently and knows how to manage her in the ring.

How does he keep her calm and well-behaved?

“Well, I pet her,” Busse said. “And it’s good not to make any sudden moves, or she might go insane.”

For full fair coverage, including a daily schedule, go to GazetteXtra.com/fair.

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