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Blue-ribbon care

Cole Neil
Livestock shows at Iowa's county fairs are like "beauty contests," says Mike Telford with Iowa Farm Animal Care (IFAC). Show cattle are washed, brushed and groomed before strutting into the show ring.
Students must undergo training and care for their farm animals every day in order to compete at county fairs.
Iowans love their county fairs, and it's fantastic to see fair season return this summer after many were forced to postpone last year because of the pandemic.

“County fairs are a great summer tradition. There’s no better way for a community to celebrate Iowa agriculture,” says Iowa Sec­retary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “I’m excited that our 4H and FFA members will have the opportunity to showcase their projects and see all their hard work and dedication pay off.”

Iowa’s county and state fairs are also an excellent — and fun — destination to learn more about how farmers raise and care for their animals.

Keeping farm animals safe, comfortable and healthy remains a top priority at local fairs, where young Iowans get the opportunity to showcase the farm animals they worked so hard to raise all year round.

“I can’t say enough good things about 4-H and FFA when it comes to not just the education on how to raise farm animals, but also the care, the feeding and the handling for those kids who show at a county fair or state fair,” says Mike Telford, and executive director of Iowa Farm Animal Care (IFAC).

To qualify to show their animals at the fair, 4-H and FFA members must participate in training workshops to learn about how to care, feed and shelter their farm animals.

Students also learn how to show their animals in the ring to a panel of expert judges — all for a chance to earn a blue or purple ribbon for best of show.

To get their animals ready for the show, it takes hours of work outside the ring, every single day, training the animals how to be led and “pose” for the judges when it’s their time in the spotlight.

“These kids love those animals, and they’re trained very well,” Telford says. “It’s a great educational ex­perience in how to not only care about your animals but also your fellow man.”

And as Telford notes, these show animals are pampered by their kids. Often, the students sit with their animals — even sleep next to their animals — in the barns throughout the day and night to make sure they are comfortable, clean and cool.

County fairs also have veterinarians and livestock superintendents monitor the barns 24/7 to make sure all the animals are healthy and get the care they need throughout the fair’s duration.

“In a lot of those stalls (at fairs), they have fans going and make sure that the animals have access to water,” Telford says. “You want to do everything you can to make those animals comfortable and secure and well fed and well watered."

And students take the competition seriously. Telford likens the fair to “a beauty contest for animals.” 

“Especially at the state fair, the grooming of those animals is just, in many cases, over the top,” Telford says. I mean making sure your animal’s not having a bad hair day. In some cases, they are polishing hooves and (hair) spraying and using gel to make sure they look as good as an animal can look.”

If you have questions about farm animal care — either at the fair or out in the country, feel free to contact the experts at Iowa Farm Animal Care (IFAC).

IFAC is a network of professionals, veterinarians, animal behavior scientists and farmers committed to addressing Iowans’ questions about farm animal care.

IFAC works closely with an advisory committee of experts from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship; Iowa State University; the Iowa Department of Transportation; the Animal Rescue League of Iowa; and the Iowa Sheriffs and Deputies Association.

“If you see something, please say something. More than anything else, if you have a question and don’t understand what’s going on, please feel free to call,” Telford says.

You can contact IFAC experts by calling 800-252-0577 or submit a question online at www.iowafarmanimalcare.org. All questions and reports are kept confidential. 


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