Away from the yellow and red corn dog stands and neon-colored carnival rides is a different, but just as bustling, side of the Santa Barbara County Fair.
In the back corner of the Santa Maria Fairgrounds, white, brown and light-blue buildings house animals from across the state — cows and steers mooing as their owners brush and spray their coats into the perfect coiffure, pigs grunting when they inevitably get loose and go running through the pens, and jacket-wearing sheep baaing while their trainers lead them through the busy crowds on leashes.
For many, the fair is a time of fried food and nausea-inducing carnival rides, but for the agriculture community, it’s a time to come together and show off the hard work involved in raising all manner of livestock.
Kids from Future Farmers of America and 4-H Clubs across San Luis Obispo County drive south each year to show off their animals and earn some extra cash. The fair opened Wednesday, though some of the livestock events began earlier in the week. The livestock auction is scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday.
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One of those who will be showing her animal this week is Arroyo Grande High School senior Courtney Wildey, who raises and sells pigs each year. She was even able to buy her first car mostly using proceeds from auctioning off past livestock at the fair.
We all work together as a family.
Courtney Wildey, Huasna Valley 4-H Club
“They’re just really fun,” she said of why she chose to raise pigs. “They are really intelligent animals. I don’t think a lot of people realize that. They are so stubborn, too. But it’s just such a different experience and really nice to get in there and really have your hands on something.”
Though her 240-pound Hertfordshire pig, Pickles, is more laid back — on Wednesday morning the black-and-white swine was happily munching on Wildey’s pant legs while stretched out on his side, getting his ears scratched — she said other pigs she’s raised had big personalities, often similar to dogs.
“We had one who broke into our house to get into the backyard,” she said with a laugh. “We came home to find him in the kiddie pool, swimming.”
Wildey, a member of the Huasna Valley 4-H Club, said her favorite part of the fair is the camaraderie.
“Honestly, I like how we all come together,” she said. “If you see a pig and somebody come running by, everyone will say, ‘I may not know you, but I’m willing to help.’ We all work together as a family.”
You have so much anxiety and are nervous — but it’s super fun.
Madison Flick, Nipomo 4-H
For those who are new to agriculture, the pens at the fairgrounds can be an interesting blend of hectic and relaxed: Kids and parents sit around when their animals aren’t called to be shown yet, talking and laughing with friends and sometimes playing cards or other games.
In another livestock area, the scene can be completely different, with kids running around trying to finish last-minute preparations before entering the show ring, frantically brushing the animals, looking for missing pieces of their club uniforms and transporting their animals back and forth.
For Nipomo High School sophomore Madison Flick, Wednesday morning was especially hectic as she prepared her breeding calf and market steer for back-to-back showings.
“It’s really stressful, but it’s a lot of fun once you actually get into the show ring,” she said as she finished preparing the calf, Rootbeer, to be shown any minute. “The whole process of getting them there is super, just, anxious. You have so much anxiety and are nervous — but it’s super fun.”
Flick, a member of both the Nipomo 4-H Club and FFA was there with her younger brother, Riley Hollis, 11, who was showing animals at the fair for his first time this year.
Hollis had shown two chickens Tuesday, but that didn’t go very well, he said. He wouldn’t elaborate beyond saying that it was embarrassing, but his real passion is the pygmy goats he’s scheduled to show Thursday.
“They are always nice,” he said. “Sometimes they get a little loud in the mornings and wake us up. But they’re actually really nice and fun to play with.”
If you go
When: The Santa Barbara County Fair continues to run Thursday through Sunday. The fair is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., although carnival rides stay open until midnight.
What to do: For a schedule of events, visit: www.santamariafairpark.com/p/getinvolved/attractions-and-entertainment-/268
How much: Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for kids ages 6 to 11, seniors and children younger than 5 are free. Parking is $7.