A new kind of fair

Autumn and Nichelle Kirby will be taking part in numerous 4-H livestock shows at this year’s GJCF, including rabbit and sheep/goat. This year, due to COVID-19, the fair will look and feel a lot different than in the past. Still, the girls are preparing to do their best. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kirby family prepares for changes to 4-H livestock shows as fair approaches
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     The Kirby family of rural Anamosa has been showing livestock at the Great Jones County Fair for almost 30 years. This year, this will look a lot different from previous years…

     In May, the fair announced that they were conducting a “modified” fair, with only the 4-H/FFA livestock shows and exhibits taking place. And unlike previous years, animals would not be allowed to stay in the barns and stalls overnight. Basically, this year’s fair is a “show and go.” Families will pull their trailers in, show their animals, and leave the same day.

     This year, the Kirby family has two kids showing: Autumn and Nichelle. This will be Autumn’s last year showing at the county fair as a recent Anamosa High School graduate. Nichelle, who’s going into fifth grade, is showing for her second year.

     The Kirbys have quite a line-up of livestock and exhibits this year: goat/sheep, rabbits, cat, other animal, swine, dairy, beef, poultry, F.A.S.T., and Communications.

     “The fair is going to be big on social distancing,” said Becky Kirby.

     In fact, the 4-H/FFA youth normally meet one-on-one with the judges to explain their F.A.S.T. projects. Not so much this year. The youth will have to put together a write-up on their projects and will be judged based on physical presentation.

     Becky said the 4-H youth and leaders start preparing for the fair in April, meeting more frequently than just their monthly meetings. However, due to COVID-19, all 4-H meetings were virtual, which made it hard for some.

     When everyone got word of the modified fair, the Kirbys’ had mixed feelings.

     “Would it be worth going and showing for just one day?” proposed Becky. “There are a lot of educational components for the public and kids with multiple days.”

     At a typical GJCF, you see people walking in and out of the barns all day to see the animals. This year that won’t be the case.

     “They’re only going to allow a limited number of people in,” shared Cinda Petrick. “Only immediate family of 4-H or FFA. That leaves out a lot of grandparents.”

     The Petricks are the grandparents to Autumn and Nicelle; however, Cinda is a 4-H leader. Becky said her in-laws, the kids’ other grandparents, usually help throughout the day bringing food and supplies.

     Becky, who offers her time to other county fairs as a livestock judge, experienced both in-person and virtual judging this year. Three of the fairs were in-person; Linn County was virtual. In that case, kids took videos and photos of their animals and submitted them for online judging. Becky said in this case, videos and photos are not as in-depth as talking to the judge in-person. There can also be technology issues, too.

     Becky explained with poultry, judges always physically handle the birds to look at their feathers and composition. You can’t do that from a video or photo.

     The Kirbys are glad to see the GJCF offering 4-H/FFA youth the opportunity to showcase their exhibits in-person.

     “This gives the kids a chance to talk to the judge about their project/livestock and gain some knowledge from the judge, too,” explained Becky. “Some kids are better verbally than when writing it down.”

     Nichelle said she’s nervous about her F.A.S.T. project because she wants to make sure her write-up is perfect, as if she were presenting it herself in the hopes of going to the State Fair.

     “It needs to be a good write-up,” she said.

     “They’ll need to include a lot of details in their write-up,” added Becky.

     However, Nichelle said the upside is having time to think about what she wants to say about her projects rather than be put on the spot.

     Cinda said this year requires the kids to put in a lot of work at home before they bring their projects to the fair.

     Having shown at the GJCF since she was in fourth grade, Autumn has had years of experience, not to mention watching her older siblings show through the years as well. While she’s excited for her last year, it’s also bittersweet knowing her final year at the fair is going to look and feel a lot different.

     “You can prepare for some of the changes,” she said. “But we’re preparing like we do every year.”

     Becky said of the prep work, such as primping the animals before they enter the show ring, will have to be done at home to save time.

     “There won’t be the need to haul in feed and hay this year,” she said.

     “The biggest issue,” added Cinda, “will be time. We usually wash poultry the day before they show to give them time to dry off. Cattle, you wash them the morning of.”

     And because this is the GJCF, it’s a safe bet it’ll be hot the week of, which means the heat will be factor, too.

     With people bringing animals in on trailers, not allowed to put them in pens or stalls inside the open-air barns, the animals could get overheated during the day.

     Throughout the last few months, the Kirbys’ 4-H club, Jones County Central, has been keeping in constant contact via emails, texts, and phone calls.

     As fair week approaches, everyone is in the same boat in terms of not knowing what to expect, but hoping for the best outcome…


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