Athletes who clobber long-shot home runs or score ridiculous points can be subject to a random drug tests.
Champions at the Rock County 4-H Fair are tested, too.
Some animals crowned grand or reserve champions are tested for performance enhancers.
The tests cost the fair about $1,000 a year, but fair board President Randy Thompson said the expense is worth it.
“We just found that from the integrity of the shows that it was the cost of doing business, and it eliminated any thoughts that somebody had to have done something to win,” Thompson said.
Before the fair started testing the champion steers, lambs and pigs a little more than 20 years ago, people suspected winning animals somehow had an advantage, Thompson said. The tests have all but eliminated such suspicions.
“We’re just maintaining the integrity and quality of the shows that we have and want to make sure everything is done properly,” Thompson said. “All of these animals will end up in our food supply, and we want to make sure the quality is maintained.”
In April, the animals are given identifying ear tags, and the fair collects hair samples from all competing animals.
When a champion is announced at the fair, hair samples are taken from the animal by a fair representative and sent to a lab for comparison to the samples taken in April to make sure it’s the same animal. A fair representative stays with the grand champion until blood is drawn to test for performance enhancers.
Rock County agriculture Extension agent Nick Baker collected hair samples from the grand champion barrow Wednesday.
“We have a national code of ethics, so we just do that to make sure the animal is healthy and wasn’t given anything before it was showed at the fair,” Baker said.
The Rock County Fair is one of few county fairs in the area to test animals, but he said the Wisconsin State Fair as well as major livestock shows conduct similar tests.
Much like in sports, Thompson said, the testing makes sense.
“There’s a whole ton of drugs out there that are performance enhancing drugs, but this is a show based on genetics,” he said.
“You can kind of equate it to doping in sports. They do testing at the Olympics, or even today in Major League Baseball they will randomly test someone who is knocking home runs left and right.”
The fair used to collect urine samples for the tests, but advances in technology have made blood tests simpler. The blood samples are sent to a lab in Colorado, and the results typically are returned the Monday after the fair.
If banned substances are found in a winning animal, punishment can range from forfeiture and refunding of meat animal sale proceeds to being banned from showing at the fair.
While no animals have tested positive for banned substances in recent years, Thompson said they have had positive tests in the past. He hopes that just like professional athletes, families will continue to focus on working hard and preparing animals for the event.
“In sports, you practice your tail off so that your shot is second nature, and it’s the same thing here,” he said. “If you go out a couple weeks before the fair and try to lead the steer for the first time, it’s probably not going to go well.”
For full fair coverage, including a daily schedule, go to GazetteXtra.com/fair.