At the Clay County Fair
SPENCER – Throughout the nine-day run of the 2011 Clay County Fair, which ended Sunday, hundreds of 4-H, FFA and open class exhibitors spent countless hours preparing, beef cattle, dairy animals, swine, horses, meat goats, sheep, rabbits and poultry for the livestock shows.
Although rides and a variety of food are available to fair goers to enjoy, the shows are still the primary activity at an Iowa county fair.
Anne Hildreth and her draft ponies were housed on Saturday in the former sheep barns.
Already a veteran of horse shows at 23, she has two decades of experience and is accustomed to winning most of what she enters.
She was getting her Hackney Shetlands ready for a series of hitch competitions on Saturday.
Watching closely was her grandfather, Martin Hildreth. The family’s farm in Rockwell City breeds its own draft ponies.
He was scheduled to compete in the antique wagon class, driving a big Belgian draft horse named Preston.
After winning eight first place finishes at the 2011 Iowa State Fair, she was set to enter four competitions, including four-hitch and six-hitch teams.
“We’ve always won quite a bit,” Anne Hildreth said of their state fair activities, “but this was our best year yet.”
Last year, she added, they won everything they entered at the Clay County Fair.
When asked if winning ever gets old, she laughed. “Of course not.
“There’s always something to work on. You can always make ponies better.
“Our six-hitch team still doesn’t drive perfect.”
She said the annual challenge is to find the right combination of animals to work together, while still being matched in size and color.
Hereford love affair
In the cattle barns, Trent McAtee, 12, of Clarion, was busy on Friday keeping the stalls of Hereford cattle clean. The animals belonged to his father, Larry McAtee, of Rafter LB Cattle, and of Dean VanDeWeile, of Kanawha, owner of Double D Polled Herefords.
This is the second year that McAtee has brought his Herefords to the Clay County Fair. He said the people are what brought him back.
“It’s friendly here,” he said. “They are laid back.”
McAtee has a modest cow-calf herd in Clarion and had that day purchased a heifer from his show partner, VanDeWeile.
“She won’t win,” VanDeWeile said of the heifer he sold to the McAtees, “but she’ll compete.”
VanDeWeile, who has three decades of show experience as a seed stock producer, said, “I’ve had a love affair with Herefords all my life.” He said his passion has taken him across the nation to junior shows and purebred shows.
In 2004 and 2005 he showed the reserve champion sire at the Iowa State Fair.
VanDeWeile was outside at washing racks showing Trent McAtee how to wash and trim a calf for a show.
McAtee was preparing to wash and trim one of VanDeWeile’s bull calves for the open beef show on?Saturday.
VanDeWeile said that although he competes in shows, he prefers to breed his calves to produce in the pasture before shining in the show ring.
Larry McAtee said that approach to genetics suited him. As a seller of feeder calves, he wanted animals with good mothering instincts that would drop heathy calves.
He planned to breed his new heifer with an Angus bull to get the coveted “black baldy” calf that brings premiums at calf sales.
160 and counting
In the livestock pavilion, Zach Lear, 17, of Spencer, was busy trimming a boar goat for Sunday’s meat goat show.
On Friday, his swine entries netted three trophies. He said his tally for swine shows has netted him 160 trophies in 4-H and FFA shows.
Not bad for a town kid. He’s a senior this year at Spencer High?School.
“But I’ve never won the top award,”?Lear said, referring to the supreme champion market swine trophy.
This year he got close, supreme reserve, as well as the county gilt and county barrow champions.
Next year, he said, he plans to bring only one or two pigs in pursuit of the big prize.
“I know it may sound conceited,”?Lear said. “This year I brought 10 pigs.
“But it only takes one.”
Lear’s father, Greg Lear, is part owner of Spencer Ag Center, along with Tim Christensen.
The Lears select the breeding of the sows, which are farrowed by Christensen. In exchange, Zach gets his pick of show pigs.
Although he said he was confident he had competitive pigs this year, “you just can’t plan on winning. The wins are always a surprise.”
He said that many times, the difference between a blue or purple ribbon is the preference of the judges.
Lear said he plans to attend Iowa State University in 2012 studying wither agriculture or architectural engineering.
“When I get older,” he said, “I want to start my own breeding herd and work part time as a (show) judge.
“I just love the pigs.”
He said raising and showing pigs are activities he thoroughly enjoys. From showing at county fairs as a fifth-grader in 4-H, he’s expanded his experiences by showing in different states at national shows.
“It’s a profit-maker,” Lear said, “but it’s also my job now.”
Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, or at email@example.com.
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