As I spend time around the Texas County Fair each year, my appreciation grows for just how integral the livestock portion of it is to the whole event.
Don’t get me wrong, other aspects of the fair surely add a lot to the overall package (like rides, cotton candy, tractor pulls and gospel music), but there’s something uniquely special about livestock showing and selling – and all that goes into it – that always piques my interest. Basically, it’s safe to say that whenever a three-year-old girl is leading a sheep three times her size around an arena, a group of about a dozen people are using sticks to create an on-the-edge-of-mayhem parade pigs in front of a judge, or a man my age is flipping a rabbit or a chicken upside down to examine its underside, it gets my attention.
But while I annually enjoy learning and understanding more about what separates an award-winning Flemish Giant rabbit from an average one, why the rear-end portion of one goat or sheep is superior to another, or what leads a judge to favor one good-looking steer over several good-looking steers, my respect simultaneously grows for the sheer magnitude of what is required to make four days of livestock activity possible at a rural county fair.
The bottom line is, it’s no small task and pretty much takes a year-round effort by a significant number of people.
In Texas County, that group of people is led by the Texas County Fair Board, an entity with six officers and 11 departments, each of which is overseen by a superintendent. Board members come from various backgrounds, but most have some form of connection to agriculture or farming.
But while their resumes might differ, they all share a dedication to the agricultural lifestyle and gladly – and voluntarily – lend their knowledge and physical abilities to promoting it and making sure young county residents have an opportunity to get major exposure to it.
Making that exposure available might mean sometimes spending a weekend in early February wielding a hammer or shovel to make improvements to the pig, sheep or beef barn at the Houston Area Chamber of Commerce Fairgrounds, or meeting in late November to make plans for how to best make use of money earned at an October fundraiser dinner.
But the job gets done, and in a way that helps the fair’s livestock activities and facilities get better every year.
Despite all the time and effort they put into their positions, this isn’t a group that waves a flag in front of anyone’s face to bring attention to themselves or does anything else in the realm of self-glorification or recognition (as is so common these days in all corners of society). They just smile and work their keesters off and get an inward satisfaction from watching others benefit (especially youth).
To work as a fair board member is mostly a behind-the-scenes kind of thing, but the results or their labor (and fundraising efforts) aren’t always that way. For example, the livestock showing arena is now completely encompassed by attractive but effective fencing, and this year a nice new office building stood at the south side of the facility. The addition of the building is a big step on multiple levels; its interior offers a larger space for tabulation of show results and its walk-up windows present a much better way to conduct transactions during the junior livestock sale.
Speaking of the sale, it’s always worth highlighting how awesome it is that so many businesses, organizations and individuals come out each year and support all the kids in what is arguably the most impactful way possible – by doling out cash. Whether it’s paying two or three grand for an award-winning steer or providing a $15 “add-on” after a sale has been consummated, every buck counts and it’s a tribute to the community that so many bucks change hands this way.
On a side note, I always like how the sale’s public address announcer reads what each seller plans to do with the money. Some are going to “buy gas and insurance,” some aim to “save it for college,” and others intend to “buy more animals for next year’s fair.”
Seems to me those are all good causes, and I don’t recall ever hearing that a boy or girl planned to “squander the money on Big Macs and video games.” I’d like to think that’s at least in part because sellers are learning responsibility and gaining wisdom through the experience of raising and caring for a show animal.
Anyway, another Texas County Fair is in the books, and as usual, the livestock activity provided numerous memorable moments. Even though animal numbers were down as a whole this time (something fair board chairman Darren Ice attributed to several factors, including the pig disease scare from earlier this year, the skyrocketed price of steer feed and the continuing state of the overall economy), it was still a monumental achievement, a great coming together of the community, and a whole lot of fun.
See you at the fair in 2015.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.