The Santa Barbara County Fair may be all fun and games for most, but for many San Luis Obispo County 4-H and FFA members, this week marked the culmination of months’ worth of work.
“It’s a lot of long hours of drinking, feeding, giving baths, walking, sitting with them,” said Arroyo Grande FFA member Melanie Mankins as she prepared her cow, Daisy, for the first round of showing on Wednesday.
And Mankins would know. This year marked her sixth and final year showing at the fair, as she graduated from Arroyo Grande High School in 2012, but Mankins was also raised around animals.
“I live on a ranch, and we have 200 cattle,” she said. “So I’ve always loved cattle.”
Mankins’ cow, Daisy — named for the yellow tag she was wearing the day Mankins got her — is a breeding class heifer and very energetic, she said.
“She’s a little bit younger, so she’s a little more playful,” Mankins said as Daisy mooed loudly.
Daisy isn’t the only playful animal at the fair. Next door to the cattle unit is the swine unit, where pigs barreling through the walkways are a common sight, said sisters Hannah and Grace Chandless of Los Berros 4-H in Arroyo Grande.
“He’s a runner,” Grace, 11, said of her own pig, Tank, a 268-pound freckly Yorkshire. “He’s run through this barn twice.”
The sisters are new to the fair this year, they said, but decided to start by raising swine because it seemed like it would be the most interesting.
“I just wanted that hands-on experience, and I want to work with animals, as a pre-vet major,” said Hannah, who will attend Cal Poly in the fall.
That hands-on experience consists of watching out for the animals’ health (sunburns are a common problem for pigs, especially the white ones like Hannah’s pig, Moxie), walking them so they get exercise, cleaning out their stalls, washing them, and most of all, feeding them correctly.
“The most stressful is weigh-in,” Grace said. “At first I was stressed out that he (Tank) was underweight, so I was feeding him potato chips and water. And then I was afraid he was overweight. But he made max payout.”
Though keeping their pigs within their weight classes may be the foremost concern for those raising swine, 15-year-old Stephanie Fields’ main concern was getting her goat to stay put.
“You have to teach them to stay in stance, ’cause in a show ring they have to stay,” the Nipomo Adobe 4-H member said. “I didn’t work with that as much as I should have; I focused on bracing, and I should have balanced it more.”
Fields, who had two “market goats” — goats that will be auctioned off after showing — and one breeder goat, has been showing at the fair for three years now, but she started out with a much smaller animal.
“When I was doing rabbits, that was all I had, and every morning I would see these goats walking around in these outfits that I would find out were called ‘slinkies,’ and I’d think, ‘That’s so cute! I want to do that,’ ” Fields said. “I just thought that was cute, like, ‘That must be a really fun group, and I think it’ll be really cool, and maybe it’ll get me some extra money for a car.’ ”
Fields’ mother, Cherie Fields, had some reservations about raising goats at first.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my. I really don’t know anything about goats. Are you sure you don’t want to stick with small animals like rabbits?’” Cherie said. But Stephanie Fields was taken by how cute the goats were.
“Then her and her dad came home with a mom and two babies, instead of one goat. They got the entire family. So that started the breeding portion of the entire project. Last year, we had nine babies born between the moms we had on the property.”
Fields doesn’t regret the switch at all, even if her current two, Captain and Morgan, aren’t always the easiest to work with, she said.
“They’re very stubborn — it’s hard to walk these ones,” she said. “But when they come up to you, they’re sweet and lovable, silly, all of that. A lot of people don’t have the space or the money to raise a goat, or any animal, so I like to share that with them.”
If you go …The 122nd annual Santa Barbara County Fair opened Wednesday and will continue until Sunday. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., with the carnival closing at midnight.
General admission is $6 for seniors and children ages 6-11 and $8 for ages 12 and up. Unlimited carnival ride wristbands are available for $25 on weekdays and $30 on the weekend.
For a schedule of events or more information, go to www.santamariafairpark.com.