GALLIPOLIS — While much of the county fair has been changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 4-H members hope that livestock judging will be as normal as possible.
“COVID has really put a kink in everyone’s plans, but I’m really glad we’re able to still show in certain ways,” Skylar Jones-Baker, who shows hogs and was crowned Fair Queen in 2019, said.
According to Jones-Baker, hundreds of hogs are shown at the fair during a normal year. This year, much fewer are being shown.
“In general, I’m happy we’re still having a fair, but I’m really sad for those who decided that they didn’t want take livestock because of the unknown,” Jones-Baker said. “There was a lot of unknown for a long time and a lot of people couldn’t afford to feed show feed or just in general keep their animals with the unknown that they’d be able to sell them.”
Because many feared they would not be able to show their animals, the cost of keeping an animal outweighed the cost of butchering. According to Jones-Baker, many have already had their animals butchered because of the uncertainty around the fair, contributing to the decrease in participants this year.
But Jones-Baker believes that the change in circumstances is prompting better work from participants.
“I’ve seen people flourish from it,” she said. “I’ve seen kids work harder in 4-H with their animals because this is a lot of free time for them. You know, kids got out of school they had time to work with their livestock more. And I’ve seen kids who barely had time to do anything this summer and went to see their livestock and their livestock look awesome. They’re trained, they’re feeding well. Kids are really putting a lot of effort in it.”
Certain precautions are being taken at the fair to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including putting protective glass around the announcer’s stand. Participants are also required to wear masks when they show their animals, and hand sanitation stations have been set up throughout the fairgrounds. Only select vendors will be present at the fair, and no rides will be present. But Jones-Baker hopes that showing animals will maintain the normalcy of years past.
“In the showing and in the barn, they’re going to try to separate everything as much as possible where people are feeding,’ Jones-Baker said. “Because everyone has different feed schedules when they come in. This year, we’re trying to keep it as normal as possible.”
Ariel McGuire, who is 17 and has shown hogs since she was in third grade, said that the changes caused by the pandemic have been frustrating but understandable.
“The show arena, they’re only allowing 10 hogs in at a time, which is kind of frustrating,” McGuire said. “But they’ve got to do what they‘ve got to do to protect us and the animals.”
McGuire thinks that even with the drawbacks of this year, showing livestock has been a rewarding experience.
“You can see how things gradually changed and how quickly they changed this year, but as a whole I would recommend it to kids thinking about it,” she said.
For many in 4-H, the county fair is the culmination of all their work for the past year.
“I’m happy Gallia County is still having a fair,” Jones-Baker said. “I just hope that everyone can follow guidelines wherever, wash their hands regularly, so we can still have a fair…”
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Sharla Moody is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing from Gallipolis, Ohio. She is a graduate of River Valley High School and currently attends Yale University.