Some people come to the Shippensburg Community Fair to ride the rides, try their luck at a carnival game or indulge in simple American pleasures like funnel cake. But for some people, the Shippensburg Fair means something else: it’s show time.
All week in the livestock ring at the other end of the fairgrounds, children and young adults are exhibiting sheep, goats, poultry, hogs and cows that they have raised and trained.
There are competitions that are focused on the shape and condition of the livestock, and others are focused on the showmanship of the livestock, which is a category unto itself. In showmanship competitions, the livestock isn’t on display as much as the person who is exhibiting it.
“Showmanship competitions are about how well the animal cooperates with the showman, and how well the showman can work with the animal,” said Katie Miller, a 14-year-old from Newville.
On Thursday, Katie won the showmanship competition for the market goats. She bested 61 other exhibitors across all of the age groups. It was the third time so far at the fair that she had won a champion showmanship. On Monday, she won the championship for breeding goat, and she won the championships for breeding sheep on Tuesday.
Katie has been working with animals since she was 4 and has been showing animals at the Shippensburg Fair since she was 8. “I love animals, sometimes more than I do people,” she said. “They can feel how I’m feeling.”
She says that during the shows, animals respond to the composure of the showman. “If you’re calm, they’re calm. They can feel you. If I’m energetic, they get very antsy.”
Raising livestock is not easy work. Joshua Holtry, 12, from Shippensburg, who has been showing livestock for 3 and a half years, knows it as much as anyone. “There’s a lot more work that goes into [the animals] than what some people may think,” he said. “You have to work with them, you have to clean the pen, you have to make sure they’re clean, you have to make sure they’re happy.”
It takes countless hours of work for every exhibitor to even get to the point of showing their animal in the rink. Before a competition, they have to wash them, and with goats and lambs, trim their hair. Often, people will comb the hair on the bottom of their lamb’s legs into a fluff so that their feet look less bony. This is called fitting, and the adhesive has to be washed off after the show.
Most people in showmanship competitions have worked with their livestock since they were just a few weeks old. Katie has known Matt, the market goat she showed on Thursday, since he was born.
To many people who raise and show livestock, keeping the animals is a lifestyle as much as it is a passion. “This is all I do—I don’t do any sports or anything,” said Kara Haines, a senior at Shippensberg Area Senior High School before competing in the breeding sheep showmanship competition on Tuesday.
Bill Haines, Kara’s father, says the children and teens out here learn to be responsible, independent and self sufficient by keeping livestock. He grew up on a farm, and as a child, showed hogs on the same fairground.
He’s happy to see his daughter working so hard. “In a nutshell were using animals to raise kids, not kids to raise animals,” he said.
And despite people largely relying more on technology and less on agriculture, the numbers of people participating in livestock competitions at the fair are way up. Sherisa Nailor, the announcer at the livestock ring, thinks this is representative of a trend.
“The further removed people come from agriculture, the more increase you will see,” said Nailor, who teaches the agriculture elective at Big Spring High School. “It’s something different and new for kids to try, and it’s something outside their realm of normalcy.”
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