Young livestock exhibition hopefuls cope with county fair cancellations

MADISON, Wis. — Young livestock exhibition hopefuls throughout the country are having to cope with county fair cancellations this year due to the coronavirus.

Members of the livestock program with 4-H, a nationwide initiative that teaches young people to learn by doing, would typically be showcasing months of hard work at their local county fair but this summer they won’t have that opportunity.

“Whenever counties are forced to make that very difficult decision that their fair’s are not going to be able to go forward–it’s with a heavy heart,” said Midwest Farm Report Farm Director Pam Jahnke. “They know how much this means to the kids and their families.”

Jahnke who is an alumna of 4-H said for the program’s young people the county fair cancellations are devastating because it’s something they look forward to all year.

Jahnke started with the program when she was just 9-years-old and said she can still recall her first experience at the fair, “I can so remember how you had butterflies and knots in your stomach as the fair got closer and closer and I couldn’t prep enough.”

With coronavirus safety concerns still prevalent representatives from the 4-H program said they are looking into alternative ways to acknowledge their youth.

“We’re actually working with our colleagues all around the country to look at different platforms for doing that and what works well,” said Wisconsin State Program Manager Dondieneita Fleary-Simmons.

This does include moving online but for a livestock exhibition participants said going virtual isn’t so simple and the mechanics can vary from county to county.

“There are some technology issues. I mean we have to make sure that it’s fair and that the photographs can’t be altered,” said Fleary-Simmons.  “We have to make sure that if we’re going to do a 360 degree angle of animals that we’re able to see the animal clearly that way.”

Still despite everything Fleary-Simmons said young people are doing a great job of shifting gears and finding focus during the pandemic.

“They’re figuring out how to make this work the best that they can,” she said.  “We’re doing the best we can to give them the technology and the support and guidance to make that happen.”

The 4-H program which also focuses on STEM, civic engagement, art and other subject matters  has also had to make changes to their one hundredth youth conference event this summer. 

The group is instead workshopping plans to celebrate their centennial with 100 activities statewide throughout the summer to accommodate their 30 thousand participants in Wisconsin.

The conference typically involves four to five hundred children making their way to the UW campus which has been made impossible by the coronavirus this year.