By EMMALEE C. TORISK | firstname.lastname@example.org
With snow still covering the frozen ground and temperatures dipping well into the teens, the bustling midways and tantalizing treats of the Canfield Fair seem like a far-off memory, not soon to be repeated.
That’s not the case for Abby and Emily Hemphill of Berlin Center.
The 16- and 11-year-olds, respectively, are planning ahead for the 168th Canfield Fair, which will open Aug. 27 — a scant six months away. The sisters plan to enter livestock they’ve raised through the 4-H Club, an organization that their parents Wendy and Gary Hemphill also belonged to.
Right now, Abby and Emily have their market steers, which they obtained through a mid-October lottery, and within the next few months also will select animals to enter into the market swine and market feeder project categories.
Emily, who is in her first year raising steer and third year with 4-H, named her steer “Larry.”
“He’s fuzzy and black,” said Emily, a fifth-grader at Western Reserve Elementary School.
And the two steers that Abby, a junior at Western Reserve High School, will enter as fair projects are named, appropriately enough, “Curly” and “Moe.”
Those members with experience in livestock — such as Abby, who started with 4-H as a fifth-grader — are permitted to raise two steers at the discretion of the committee heading the project.
Though the family already has three steers living in a barn on their Mock Road property, Abby explained that the winter months are regarded as serious downtime — but that as soon as spring hits, it’s nonstop work all the way through to the fair.
One of the most important aspects of this work is halter-breaking the steer, or teaching the animal to become accustomed to being led, Wendy added. She explained that most steers, born about six months before the lottery, haven’t really been around people before, and it becomes a matter of “winning over their trust.”
Plus, according to the Mahoning County Junior Fair’s guidelines, “no unruly or unmanageable steers will be shown and/or sold at the fair.”
“They’re crazy,” Emily said, of the steers when they’re first picked up.
The steers also gain a significant amount of weight in the months leading up to the fair, each growing from between 450 and 550 pounds to between 1,000 and 1,400 pounds, Gary said.
Abby’s and Emily’s steers each eat about 25 pounds of food daily, and gain about 31⁄2 pounds a day as well. This diet of feed, vitamins, hay and a lot of water seems to be working well for Larry, said Emily, as the steer now weighs 1,000 pounds.
“He’s huge,” she said.
Calves in the market feeder category, in contrast, are obtained by entrants when they’re about 200 pounds, then raised to weigh between 500 and 600 pounds, he explained. Other farmers then finish raising the calves.
Wendy noted that though the market steer project is based somewhat on the luck of the draw, the way a steer is fed can greatly affect the outcome of the project — as can how often the animal is exercised, or how clean its living area is kept.
Gary added, too, that judging at the Canfield Fair isn’t necessarily based upon how much a steer weighs. Instead, judges look for “the best overall cut of meat.” Anyone — from a major corporation to an average homeowner — can come to the fair and purchase steers.
“All they do is pay for it that night, then pick it up from the butcher, ready for the freezer,” Wendy said. “We’ve been very fortunate [to have repeat buyers].”
Both Gary and Wendy said even when they were involved with 4-H, that they were never bothered by what happens to their animals at the fair’s end. It’s simply a part of life, they said.
Emily, though, said her least favorite part of the fair is “giving them away.”
But the fair has been good to Abby and Emily, especially last year.
Abby won the title of reserve champion for her 1,385-pound steer and grand champion for her 281-pound hog, while her other steer won first place in its weight class.
Emily’s two hogs won first place in their weight classes, while her market feeder won third place in its class.
Both sisters agreed that participating in 4-H is hard, but rewarding, work.
“You make a lot of new friends, and it’s a great learning experience that teaches responsibility for the future,” Abby said, adding that she loves the opportunity to work with the animals.
Her mother agreed, explaining that the work intensifies in the weeks leading up to the fair. And at the fair, a lack of sleep is the norm. It’s rare to leave the barn before midnight.
“But there’s nothing I don’t like about the fair,” Wendy added. “It’s the best week of the year — it’s like Christmas for us.”