Friendship, fortitude, family and fun for kids in fair and 4-H

Riley Huffaker and Shelbi Turner practice showing their animals prior to the Uinta County Fair. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — It all comes down to one week at the Uinta County Fairgrounds. Months of work and dedication culminate in shows for the judges and the possibility, or likelihood, of nerves, laughter and tears that may accompany those shows. 

Young people entering livestock, animals, art and craft projects, or other exhibits have spent hundreds or possibly thousands of hours preparing for the annual county fair. On a recent warm summer evening, several members of the Bear River Aggies 4-H Club could be found at the Turner Ranch in Almy practicing and preparing to show their livestock at the Uinta County Fair, held from July 29 through Aug. 3. 

The kids, ages 9-13, took a short break from that practice to share a bit about what it really entails to showcase their work at the fair. 

Shelbi Turner, 13, is preparing to show both a steer and a heifer, while 11-year-old Riley Huffaker prepares to show his steer in the market beef competition. Young Kambree Barker, age 9, is nervous for her first time in front of the judges at the fair, where she is entering two steers. Tyson and Jaxon Haider, 10 and 13, will have entries in the swine show. 

Folks not involved with such projects may not realize exactly how much work and expense goes into preparing for the annual fair.

Tyson and Jaxon started working with their animals in the spring, including twice-a-day feedings and exercise for about 45 minutes every evening. Exercise is necessary, the boys said, in order to build muscle and make sure the animal has the right amount of muscle compared to fat. 

Working with pigs, sheep and goats requires an investment of about five to six months of work, said Jacque Turner, Shelbi’s mom. That’s already a huge chunk of time and expense when food costs are figured in. Working with beef, however, takes an even larger investment of approximately 10-11 months.

Shelbi, Kambree and Riley have all made that investment. The kids said they give up a lot to raise their beef, including spring break vacations and other extended time away. They all said they get up several hours before school starts all year long to have time to feed and care for their animals before getting on the bus. “They eat first,” all three said in reference to whether kids or animals get breakfast first in the morning.

Riley said he’s usually out in the barn with his steer by 6:30 each morning, which he says will have to be even earlier when he starts middle school with its hour earlier start time. 

Shelbi said the animals have to be on a schedule for feeding, exercise and practice. “It’s important to practice,” she said, “so they can get used to people and changing surroundings. You never know what’s going to happen in the show ring with people and noises.” 

The work has to be done no matter the weather, including in the dead of winter when it’s below freezing outside. Riley said during the winter he leads his steers to water twice a day.  In the summer months the animals may need to be bathed up to three times daily and kept under fans to keep them cool. “You have to keep them cool, so they don’t lose their hair,” said Shelbi. 

Liz Huffaker, Riley’s mom and leader of the Bear River Aggies, said the kids start from the ground up with the animals, which are wild when they get them. “Riley halter breaks his steers himself and everything.” According to Liz, Riley’s steer can eat about 24 pounds of food a day, at a cost of about $200 per month. 

Riley and Shelbi said spending so much time with the animals leads to an attachment and strong bond, which makes for some emotional moments when the time comes to sell them at the fair. Shelbi admitted to shedding more than a few tears each year. 

After they’re purchased during the livestock sale at the fair, the kids even take the animals to the processing facilities themselves. In the case of beef, however, the animals are taken back home to be cared for and fed for another 10-14 days first. 

In spite of the hard work, expense and sacrifices, the kids said they enjoy the experience and get more out of it than they put in. Shelbi said she enjoys working with the animals each year and creating that bond, and she also enjoys the friendships that have been forged through fair participation. Riley said it gives him a sense of accomplishment and pride. Jaxon and Tyson said there are good and bad aspects of raising the animals, but they’ve learned responsibility and valuable skills for the future. 

All of the kids said the money earned from the livestock sales is put away into savings accounts for college rather than spent on fun. 

As a 4-H leader who participated in the fair herself as a youth, Liz said she hopes people understand how much work the kids put into the entire process. Not only do they sacrifice a lot, there is also a lot of learning involved as the judges question the kids on various aspects of raising the animals, dietary needs, anatomy and more. 

“This is about leaving things better for the next generation and passing things on,” she said. “It’s about building lifelong relationships.” She added that months of work and dedication go into all entries and not just livestock. “4-H has an awesome STEM program and there are so many other exhibits they’ve worked really hard on,” she said. 

Jacque said, “All of it is a family affair. We plan our vacations around the couple of weeks we have off after the fair is over before it starts all over again. We learn to count on each other and on our neighbors for support.” 

“Boots” Turner, Shelbi’s grandma and one of Liz’s 4-H leaders, said the kids learn responsibility and life skills. “These are the same kids who are also out helping on the ranch and working with their families each day.”

Liz stressed that giving back to the community is also an emphasis, and the kids do service projects each year in addition to everything else they do regularly. This year those projects have included pulling weeds on the Bear Greenway and putting flags out at the cemetery over Memorial Day weekend. 

The women said they enjoy attending the fair with their children, especially because of the small-town atmosphere. “It’s safe,” said Jacque. “We can visit with each other and the kids can run around and we don’t have to worry about them. The fair leadership, law enforcement and even search and rescue crews deserve thanks for making it that way.” 

Hadley Huffaker, Liz’s young daughter, is junior princess for this year’s fair. “I’d love to see everyone at the fair,” she said, where her duties will be to help out with anything needed and with distributing ribbons to winners. 

All the kids and parents said they greatly appreciate community support and the buyers at the fair in years past and hope to see lots of people in attendance this year. The 2019 junior livestock sale will take place on the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 2. 

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