Animal exhibitors entrenched at fairgrounds

Many arrive early, leave late to care for, prepare livestock

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Dallas Zernicke, left, with the Bonduel FFA, herds her pigs into their pen with a little help from Daryn Reinhard on Thursday. It’s not uncommon for most animal exhibitors to be on the fairgrounds from dawn until well after dark, caring for their four-legged entries.

Most visitors to the Shawano County Fair hang out for a few short hours — just long enough to see the exhibits, enjoy fair food and ride the rides.

For the individuals and families who show animals, however, the fair is almost like a second home, with many spending most of the six days on the fairgrounds. Whether it’s washing the animals or feeding them or keeping them from being too distressed by visitors and heat, many exhibitors arrive around sunrise each day and leave well after dark.

Megan Zeitler, a Corner View 4-H member from Bonduel, is in her fifth year showing at the fair. Her sheep take up quite a bit of her time during the fair, as she arrives daily at 7 a.m. and often doesn’t leave for the night until around 10 p.m.

“I just stick to sheep. It takes a lot of time,” Zeitler said.

Zeitler is constantly checking whether her sheep have food and water. She and other family members take shifts helping with the animals.

“You’ve got to make sure they are clean,” Zeitler said. “People come walking through, and they want to see a cute, little sheep.”

Zeitler also makes sure she is around if visitors have any questions about her sheep and how they are raised. She gets a kick out of seeing smaller children petting the sheep.

“You’ve just got to keep (the sheep) happy and content,” she said. “It’s pretty easy. They are very used to people.”

Spending time away from the farm tending her sheep has become a way of life for Zeitler. She noted that she shows the sheep at other events around the country, and the county fair is her 16th show in 2018.

“We’ve been to about five or six states,” Zeitler said. “We are traveling.”

Having family members working in shifts is helpful, but Zeitler has no qualms about spending almost her entire Labor Day weekend at the fair.

“It’s not exhausting,” Zeitler said. “You’ve just got to sit here and watch the animals. You have fun.”

Many exhibitors were up early Thursday morning, taking turns washing cows and pigs outside the animal barns. Gregg Wolf, of Bonduel, was helping his son, Sam, and daughter, Paige, by keeping a board in place so the pigs they were washing didn’t flee when the water cascaded onto them.

Wolf said this was Sam’s third year showing pigs at the fair, but it was Paige’s first year.

“We’re doing a full wash for the show today, but then we’ll spot wash them throughout the fair,” Wolf said.

For Wolf and his family, it’s a daily routine to come to the fairgrounds around 7 a.m. to feed the pigs, then wash them if needed and change out the bedding.

“We just kind of make sure they have feed and water throughout the day,” Wolf said.

The family stays on site all day, but Wolf estimated eight hours of that is spent specifically on animal care.

“We come and go sometimes,” he said.

The animals are the cornerstone of any county fair, said Brad Luepke, the Shawano fair’s marketing coordinator.

“A lot of people come for the Midway fun, but in the end, the staple of any county fair is agriculture,” Luepke said.

Luepke, who coaches girls basketball, noted that many of his players show animals at the fair year in and year out. He often talks to the girls about the animal care, and he is amazed at the amount of time prior to the fair that is spent on their care and comfort.

“Just to show an animal at the fair, it’s months upon months getting ready,” Luepke said. “It’s crazy how much time is put in. It’s almost as much time as we spend getting the fairgrounds ready.”

Luepke recalled how, years ago, many exhibitors with 4-H and FFA actually slept in the barn with their animals. Now, however, the fair board no longer allows it.

“They used to bring couches and chairs and put them right in the pens with the animals,” Luepke said.