Iowa’s county and state fairs are excellent - and fun - destinations to learn more about how farmers raise and care for their animals.

The hundreds of young Iowans who showcase their cattle, hogs, chickens, goats and more at local fairs take pride in keeping their beloved farm animals safe, comfortable and healthy in the summer and year-round.

“I can’t say enough good 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, an animal scientist and executive director of Iowa Farm Animal Care (IFAC).

To show their animals at local fairs, 4-H and FFA members must participate in training workshops to learn how to properly care, feed and shelter their farm animals.

Young students also devote hours of work outside the showring, every day, training the animals how to be led and how to “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.”

Indeed, kids love to pamper their show animals. Often, students sit with their animals – or even sleep next to their animals – in the barns during the fair to make sure the animals are comfortable, clean and cool in the summer heat.

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

“In a lot of those stalls (at the fair), 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, because it’s also a business (for the kids).”

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

Walking through the barns, you can find kids brushing, scrubbing and going full barbershop on their animals before the big show.

“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.”

When you visit a fair this summer, you (or your kids) may have questions about what you’re seeing at the livestock shows and in the barns.

If you have a question or concern about animal care, 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 All questions and reports are kept confidential.

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