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.

DOUG DAVISON

DOUG DAVISON

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: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Texas County Fair Board chairman Darren Ice watches as his daughter Abby shows a steer during the 2014 fair.

Texas County Fair Board chairman Darren Ice watches as his daughter Abby stands by her animal during steer showing competition at 2014 fair.

The fact that the weather was about as nice as you could ask for on an early August afternoon certainly didn’t hurt, but I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in on my first Texas County Fair junior livestock sale last Saturday.

Perhaps more than your average journalism-type, I enjoy being around animals. Big or small, furry or smooth, pretty or pungent – I like almost all of them. So when I have a work assignment that entails taking photographs of dozens to even hundreds of animals, I’m OK with it, to say the least.

Add to that the atmosphere of being in the Houston Area Chamber of Commerce Fairgrounds livestock showing arena, surrounded by a large, attentive and appreciative crowd, with the sound of auctioneers’ calls blaring over the public address system, and you have the makings of what I’d call a pretty dang good time.

As anyone who has witnessed it can attest, the fair’s junior livestock sale is such a cool deal on so many levels.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

There’s the camaraderie of the participants and volunteers representing the Texas County Fair Board. There’s the connection between the young sellers and the usually older buyers. There’s the excitement of the bidding wars that pop up now and then.

And of course, there’s a virtual goldmine of cuteness, with so many little kids experiencing some of the biggest moments of their lives, parading their fine looking animals that have obviously been diligently tended to and even pampered prior to their day in the ring. At times, the cuteness meter hits its highest point and stays there. I mean, where else are you going to see a young boy leading a sheep around, both packing peal-handled pistols (plastic ones, mind you), or a sow and the young lady directing it both wearing tu-tus?

Some of the sellers show some big-time resolve and determination, too, and there are even lessons to be learned in watching them while they’re in the ring. I mean, where else are you going to see a 1000-pound steer act up, and a boy at the end of its rope who can’t weigh more than 70 pounds start smacking it around and manhandling it until it submits and calms down?

The show also features plenty of wow moments, like when a kid tries to ride a pig into the arena, or a frisky sheep leaps up and almost knocks down its 12-year-old handler. And there are even touching scenes, when an animal is donated back by a buyer and resold multiple times (sometimes to the benefit of a needy family or individual).

It’s enough to make even the most even-keeled or cold-hearted individual laugh out loud or shed a tear (which, it should be noted, both happened last Saturday).

Much of the credit for the success of the junior livestock sale – and all of the fair’s other livestock related activities – has to go to the fair board, whose members do so much behind the scenes work to make three or four days in August so special.

Thanks to their efforts, the fairgrounds’ livestock facilities are really top-notch at this point. The hog pens are made of stout metal instead of rickety two-by-fours, the whole area is fenced in to prevent jailbreaks by intrepid steers and other animals (thanks to donations made by businesses and individuals), the poultry and rabbit barn is a solid, fully enclosed space equipped with a nice new wooden judging table, and the sound system is more than adequate (as is pretty much every other aspect of the whole place).

I won’t mention any names (they know who they are), but the board leaders have in the past few years made a real habit out of improving the facilities. The changes made during that time are obvious, and it should be interesting to see what they do next.

As a casual observer, I’d say that even if no improvements were made for a while, the whole event would still be great. But I’m guessing that’s not going to be the case, and we’ll something new and different (and better) next year.

And when I say “we,” I mean just that, because Lord willing, I’ll be there. I plan to be a regular at the event from here on out – regardless of the weather.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.