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Hi-Line Living: The Great 4-H Fair

Event continues successfully despite pandemic


Last updated 7/24/2020 at 8am

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

When the Great Northern Fair was canceled for the first time in a century back in June due to the COVID-19 pandemic Montana State University Hill County Extension proposed that they hold a virtual 4-H Fair on the Great Northern Fairgrounds, which they believed they would be able to pull off while staying within COVID-19 guidelines set forth by Gov. Steve Bullock and the Hill County Health Department.

The fair was held this past weekend and by all appearances it was a success.

"It's a lot different this year, but things have been going well," said Hill County Extension Agent Jasmine Carbajal during a break between animal shows Saturday, "I've heard from parents that our kids are actually more focused this year because there are no distractions like the carnival. In a way it's kind of an advantage."

The event was unusual for 4-H in a number of ways, one of which was that they needed to limit the size of the audience for the sake of social distancing.

Before the show, Carbajal and fellow Extension Agent Tom Allen said they wouldn't turn away anyone who wanted to show up in person, but that they hoped members of the community who weren't related to one of the young people in the 4-H program to attend virtually via Facebook Live instead of being there in person.

Apparently, people listened.

"We really are grateful to our community for not showing up," Carbajal said jokingly.

She also said she was grateful to the Hill County Health Department for working with them to help make this event happen.

The fair featured a series of animal shows and competitions with young 4-H'ers who Carbajal said worked amazingly hard to make the event happen despite the circumstances.

"I admire them. They are my inspiration to make sure that we're doing what we need to do to make sure that they can have their shows," she said.

Carbajal said that when she came to the area three years ago she had no 4-H background and every year the young people in the program teach her something new. She said that helps her better understand how to facilitate their projects and keep events like this fair going strong even amid the current circumstances.

"My role as an agent is to help them with the administration part of things," she said, "... Really, at the end of the day, they're the ones shining in the ring, we're not."

Shyla Solomon, 14, is one such person. She competed in the steer program and this will be her fifth year with the 4-H program where she also does sewing, quilting and cake decorating projects.

Solomon said despite the pandemic, 4-H members have been able to adapt and still have a good time with the event.

"It was a lot of fun," she said, "My steer did really good, we all went into the ring and tried to social distance as best we could."

Solomon said this year's event has been a different animal for her, but for the most part the projects she and her fellow 4-H members are working on is business as usual.

"We don't get to display our stuff as much as we used to, and we don't have the Chuckwagon," she said, "... but you do your project's the same."

The fair hosted animal shows of many varieties that ran from Friday through Sunday afternoon featuring horses, dogs, cattle, swine, sheep, goats as well as smaller animals like cats, chickens and rabbits. In previous years these shows have hosted more exotic fare as well, such as a bearded dragon and a hedgehog.

Many of these shows featured 4-H'ers participating in competitions of showmanship to be judged on their animal handling, posture, the conduct of the animal itself, as well as their knowledge.

Dogs could perform tricks while their respective 4-H'er showed off their obedience, while the smaller, less trainable animals like cats and the aforementioned lizard, could be judged on other criteria depending on which show they were in.

"We have workshops for the kiddos to work with their dogs a couple months before," Carbajal said, "But sometimes it doesn't matter, all that counts is the time with the judge and sometimes they do the complete opposite of what they did in the workshop, but the kids do a good job of just rolling with it."

But among all the shows the fair puts on, the beef show is one of the biggest and drew a sizable crowd to the Bigger Better Barn's bleachers Friday.

"When you have 22 steers, with 22 kids, you have 22 families," Carbajal said.

She thanked attendees for socially distancing and wearing masks which she said was one of the more difficult elements of the modified fair.

"The face masks have been the hardest, just because that's something we're not really used to at our shows," she said. "... We take the breaks where we can get them."

She said the members of 4-H have been doing very well despite the recent directive made by Gov. Steve Bullock that requires people to wear facemasks at certain outdoor events including the fair.

"They're working very hard, they're doing very well given the circumstances that we have following the governor's directive," she said, "I think all the kids are doing great."

Allen, who was working on the virtual elements of the fair, admitted part of him was annoyed by the directive.

"Why couldn't you wait till Monday," he said jokingly.

Carbajal said the fair didn't run into any major roadblocks, but Extension did have to put in a bit more leg work to make the fair happen.

"We did have extra work this year like blocking off the bleachers and things like that," she said, "So it has been a little more work, and I'm sure there's going to be more work at clean up."

Another new element Extension had to account for were the live feeds of the shows, which Allen said had 28 people watching some from over a thousand miles away.

"I think it's been going pretty good," he said during a break between shows, "I've talked to some of the parents and they say they've got people watching down in Billings, had someone from California who was watching ... It's not just locals its people from around the country watching, which really helps."

Allen said the virtual element of the fair has definitely been a new experience, but, thankfully, there were no major hiccups and the live streams went well.

"It's just getting used to it, I've never really done anything like that before," he said.

"By the time I get done here I think we'll have it figured out by then," he added jokingly.

Carbajal said videos of the various events get posted to Facebook after they're streamed, and some have gotten 500 views.

Madelyn Myers, 12, has been with 4-H for five years and won reserve in the beef show. She said the event went well but it is definitely moving at a different pace this year.

"It is different this year, there are a lot less people here. I'm used to showing them my animals," she said.

Kaytlyn Domire, 15, who was part to the small animals show and has been with 4-H for nearly eight years, also said this year was definitely pretty weird and even a little bit depressing to see the bleachers so sparsely populated even if it's for social distancing.

Carbajal said, despite the success of the event, there have been some lessons learned.

"One thing we've found this year is that we don't want to have a steer show in the evening," she said, laughing, "So we've learned that. Some of our steers were tired by the end of the day, some of them weren't really working with their kids."

She said, under normal circumstances, they would have had the beef show earlier, but because of the condensed schedule they were working with, a necessity due to the circumstances, not all the steers arrived the previous day as would normally be the case. Instead, many arrived earlier that morning and didn't have time to adjust and relax.

However, she said, the competitors performed admirably despite that.

"Over all, the kids did great with the circumstances they had," she said.

Allen said a lot of people worked really hard to make the beef show happen and he applauded their efforts and tenacity.

"Our livestock committee was here until 1 o'clock in the morning setting up this ring after we got done with the beef show," he said. "... They've been working hard."

After the shows were done, the fair hosted the annual 4-H sale, which auctioned off livestock to buyers in the area, an event that generated $182,000, more than $30,000 more than what was made at last year's sale despite having 20 fewer animals available.

Carbajal said a number of factors led to this outcome, but two stand out to her, the first being a bit of cabin fever.

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

"I know people are wanting to have more events like that because so many things have been canceled," she said, "So having that option available for our buyers, this was good for them to get out."

The second reason she gave was the young members of 4-H.

"They understand that our kids worked really really hard all year," she said. "... They still wanted to support those kids and I think that was a big, if not, the main reason for why our buyers really came out and supported them this year."

Carbajal said animals sold for unusually high prices this year compared to previous ones including lamb in particular, which averaged $6.81 per pound.

She said hog went for $6.08, beef for $4.43, and goat $5 per pound.

Carbajal said she was grateful for the buyers for supporting 4-H and for ensuring an encouraging end to the event.


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