For city kids, the Illinois State Fair provides a rare glimpse into rural life. A walk by the barns often shows a livestock farmer in action, mucking out stalls and tending to animals. "Want to milk a cow? Here ya go kid, grab hold and squeeze." Though it takes practice, most of us get the hang of milking well enough to squeeze out a little bit of milk, as well as gain a new-found appreciation for farmers. In mid-day, it's not uncommon to look up and see a pair of feet, attached to the body of a farm kid grabbing a nap in the heat of the day in the loft above the animals' stalls.
The smells of fresh grain or hay – or of fresh manure – are a sensory experience not soon forgotten. Seeing baby pigs, or watching them being born, is a highlight for many children, as is walking through barn after barn of farm animals. The pride on the face of an FFA or 4-H exhibitor showing their animals is remarkable.
With the cancellation of both the Illinois and Du Quoin State Fair, the Department of Agriculture (IDOA) has stepped up to provide an alternative for animal exhibitors. "The director of agriculture and the governor wish to provide each participant, aged 8-21, an opportunity to exhibit their animals," according to Brian Sager, the general livestock superintendent of the Junior Livestock Expo for the IDOA.
The Junior Livestock Show will be held in Springfield at the Illinois State Fairgrounds two weekends in September. Sept. 11-13 is reserved for beef cattle, sheep, dairy goats, pygmy goats and rabbits, while Sept. 18-20 will showcase swine, dairy cattle and meat goats. According to a press release, "IDOA will be awarding ribbons to Champions, Reserve Champions, Grand Champions, and Reserve Grands in each species and will also be paying out premiums based on total entry monies received in a 'jackpot' style format."
Sager assures the public that the exhibition will be "done in a safe and appropriate manner given the COVID-19 situation, in order to help guard each exhibitor, their families, visitors and staff." Face masks are required, as is social distancing, while overnight camping is discouraged.
A Junior Horse Show will be held at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds in late August featuring the English style, with the Western style held the following weekend in September.
What may happen to these events if Sangamon or Perry counties revert to Phase Three, with a limit on gatherings of 10 people or more, is up to the governor and the IDOA director, said Sager. These activities "are really intended for the exhibitors and their families," Sager states, though visitors may attend.
While the Governor's Sale of Champions has been canceled, Sager emphasized, "We really are talking about opportunities for our young exhibitors. They are the future of our livestock industry."
Members of 4-H are adjusting to a virtual animal showing this year, says Carissa Davis, extension educator with 4-H Youth Development. After signing up, 4-H members will upload a 60-second video, showing their animals in the same way as they would live, displaying all sides of the animal, plus walking or handling them, depending on the species. A judge will review these short videos from a remote computer, give ratings and feedback and award ribbons.
Though the Sangamon County 4-H livestock auction was also canceled, the Sangamon County 4-H Foundation has been working to solicit donations from local businesses and farmers so that exhibitors can still receive awards for their efforts.
The public may view the animals and all other 4-H projects virtually at www.facebook.com/LMS.4H/ after Aug. 12.
While we may miss our chance to milk a cow or see a newborn pig this year, young people throughout Illinois are still working hard to raise and show the highest-quality animals possible. For the rest of us, we may participate in this aspect of the fair as we do many areas of life these days – virtually.
Carey Smith is a freelance writer from Springfield who typically attends the State Fair multiple times each year with her family.