The busiest people on the opening day of the Douglas County Fair on Wednesday might have been the 4-H kids. Between keeping the animal cages and pens clean, grooming their animals (often, more than one) and then dressing up and answering a judge's questions, the fair isn't only a time for cotton candy or rides.
"It's very busy. Not a lot of off time," said Brynn Fernholz, 16, currying her yearling Jersey, Penny.
Brynn, of Kensington, brought four animals to the fair this year besides Penny, including a couple of pigs and a cow. At home, at her family's dairy, Little Brook Dairy, Brynn's cow is normally milked between 4-5 a.m. and again at 4-5 p.m. At the fair, Brynn has to change her to a new schedule, 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., timing it just right so that she has a full udder at show time, giving judges a better idea of how well she milks.
Brynn's cousin, Riley Fernholz, 17, brought one of her cows on a little excursion Wednesday morning — to the Midway. There weren't many visitors when she did it, and she wanted to get her graduation pictures taken with her cow in front of the Ferris wheel and the food booths.
It was the perfect setting since 4-H and the fair have been so much a part of her life. Cows are not typically spotted near the Ferris wheel, but her cow behaved well, she said.
"She was kind of antsy, but she stood still," Riley said.
In the nearby show arena, Eva Olson, 11, of Ashby, waited in a line of 4-H kids showing their birds to a judge. One at a time, the kids pulled their chickens and ducks from the cages and held them, answering detailed questions.
Eva not only knew the names of the various kinds of feathers on her black Old English Dutch bantam, but how many of each kind her bird had. The bird had hatched on their farm, one of hundreds to hatch this winter. Chickens are ultra sensitive to temperature and moisture, and Eva had to monitor conditions in their incubators to ensure they survived.
Her hard work paid off; she was named grand champion in showmanship in her class.
She was not only showing the chicken at the Douglas County Fair, but goats and rabbits. Like all 4-H'ers, she has to keep all the pens clean for the public, and take care of grooming, feeding and watering each animal.
"It's work, but it's also fun," Olson said.
Many 4-H kids also take turns working in the food stand and volunteering in other ways at the fair. Often, they camp on the fairgrounds.
Meanwhile, fair board members steadily improve conditions for them and their animals. This year, a canopy over their clipping and grooming stations provides some shade, said board member Pete Fernholz.
There's a new floor in the FFA barn this year, and additional outlets for those who lack generators. Plus, improvements to the electrical system have meant that on hot days, they can run other things besides the fans, such as clippers and blow dryers, without blowing the circuits.
"We're not crabby anymore," said a straight-faced Dalton Boesl, 15, of Brandon.