County and state fairs are wonderful, traditional summer events. They offer down-home fun for people of all ages — rides, carnival games, contests, shows, and farming and animal exhibits. If you’re in California, which has a whopping 58 counties, chances are there’s a county fair near you right now. Even the California State Fair is happening now.
For me, the animal exhibits and contests are at the top of the list of things that make a great fair what it is. As a non-farmer, I can get educated about farm animals and the work and culture of breeding, caring for and showing them. Farmers, breeders and interested youth can also showcase their skills and work. In very rural areas, fairs offer rare opportunities for busy farmers to interact, to show and to see what others are doing.
Animal exhibits have been a part of American county and state fairs ever since 1807, when farmer and mill owner Elkanah Watson showcased his sheep in the public square in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. According to StateFairRecipes.com, he clanged an old ship’s bell to attract attention. His goal was to encourage local farmers to raise Merino sheep, so that his mill would receive superior quality wool. By the late 1800s, county and state fairs were occurring all over the U.S.
Each fair bears the unique imprint of its geographic area. My favorite local county fair is the Sonoma-Marin Fair, which occurs in Petaluma, CA, in late June. I recently posted a pictorial of the fair rides and games. Now it’s time to highlight the animal exhibits.
The chicken coop was moved to a bigger, breezier area. It’s always fun to see (and hear) the regal roosters, hens and chickens.
Hog races were a new addition this year. The caller and operation came all the way from Arkansas.
We spent a long time in the sheep and goat barn.
And we took in a Sheep Showmanship competition of 4H and Future Farmers of America youth. We were impressed with the participants’ diligence and sheep handling, as well as with the seriousness of the competition, the obvious work and skill involved, and the sheep themselves. This site explains sheep show judging.
See photos of last year’s fair’s pig showmanship competition and more.
Watch for the final installment about the Sonoma Marin Fair: The Food.
Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman