Ohio State Fair was more than ‘fairtastic,’ it was awesome

(ABOVE: 2013 Ohio State Fair youth exhibitors who showed grand champions in the dairy breed shows included: Grand Champion Ayrshire, Lane Greiwe, Shelby County; Grand Champion Brown Swiss, Kinley Topp, Shelby County; Grand Champion Guernsey, Marshall Overholt, Holmes County; Grand Champion Holstein, Keaton Topp, Shelby County; Grand Champion Jersey, Trevor Greiwe, Logan County; Grand Champion Milking Shorthorn, Jacob Baker, Columbiana County;  Supreme Showman, Tanner Topp, Wayne County; and Supreme Showman, Megan Cornish, Huron County. / Katie Fisher photo)

Maybe you could hear me? I just breathed a sigh of relief as the 2013 Ohio State Fair ended. If there is a Hall of Fame for fairs with excellent weather, this one deserves to be in the record books.

Although weather can set the stage, it was a “Fairtastic” event. Playing off of that 2013 state fair theme, I must admit that I did not venture much beyond the Coliseum, but there was plenty of activity in my dairy corner of the grounds.

52 years running

For 52 consecutive years, I have planned a portion of my summer around the Ohio State Fair. I grew up anticipating the big trip to the old barn when all dairy breeds arrived and departed at the same time. Many of those friendships that were created in my youth are rock solid in 2013.

That same scenario exists today, as kids come together in a setting that will create the course of their future. There is a magical aura about this event that binds both exhibitor and fairgoer together. It is an awesome relationship that we need more than ever.

So much to see

Each year, I have the opportunity to manage activities that take place with my position as an OSU extension educator, but mostly I am in awe of what I can observe in my dairy area.

At the birthing pen, multitudes of crowds gather ’round to the miracle of life. Their reactions, expressions, and questions speak volumes about what is understood and what is questioned. Basically, they discover that it is an awesome experience at the fair.

This year, Kevin Jacque (second year veterinary student), was on hand to care for the area, the dairy cows and calves, AND the public. It was a round-the-clock job, as some calves chose the early morning hours to make their way into the world. He was as awesome in his diligence and focus.

Next door, “Milk a Cow” drew long lines, as everyone waited for their opportunity to squeeze some milk from two patient and cooperative Guernsey cows, Edna and Skylar.

Two OSU animal science majors, Sarah Finney and Joey Brown, enthusiastically greeted every person as they were seated on a bale of straw beside them. These students were learning about the scope of life beyond the confines of the traditional classroom.

Butter cow and parlor

After a final pat on the head of Edna and Skylar, fairgoers might MOOve over to the dairy products building to view the sculptured masterpiece in butter.

Highlighting the proud heritage of the youth choir, the detail was another kind of awesome. It generally required further discussion over a milkshake or ice cream cone.

However, I must admit to lacking the bravery of sampling the new flavor, Maple Bacon. Shame on me.

The glass windows of the milking parlor always draw a crowd. From that vantage point, people are amazed at the process. Parents draw their kids closer for an inspection or explanation. Others have their questions answered with the signs posted inside and out that add to the educational portion of this area.

Again, a group of awesome OSU students and dairy judging hopefuls provide a unique service as they managed 14 consecutive days of service in the parlor. Working with exhibitors, they participated, unofficially, in a graduate level course of public relations, business, and the mechanics of milk quality.

Circle of life

It is in the barn that the circle of life takes place. If there is anything taught with purpose, it is a work ethic that focuses first on the needs of the animals. As I walked the aisles interacting, I observed an A+ awesome experience for youth being taught by their parents and mentors.

In our industry, we may market milk, but I still believe that our best “off the farm” product is our kids. They learn about life at the end of a rope halter that leads them to the end of their comfort zone as they experience valuable lessons.

Some of these kids and parents call me out by name, others wave, some have questions, and others are very focused on the task at hand.

I am in awe of this process and remember my own growing up years that took place because of parents and mentors who guided me.

Great participation

In two weeks of fair, there were countless dairy shows, showmanship contests, two dairy skillathons, and two judging clinics. The participation was awesome and our quality deserves even more superlatives. It is a challenge to fit all of this into the daily schedule and the dairy office works to make it all happen at precisely the time it should.

I may coax some youth more than others and they find me relentless in my perseverance, but we all come together as a team.

As the Sale of Champions began and I watched our scholarship and dairy showmanship winners receive their recognition, I was choked up with pride at the awesome job I have.

So once again I will sigh, but not from relief. Instead it is an expression of accomplishment.

Our dairy team is more about giving and less about taking. It is an awesome lesson to learn. From the awe of my first state fair at age 10, then as a parent and adviser, as an exhibitor of multiple breeds, to my role as an educator, I have seen the fair from many angles and many generations.

“Fairtastic” was a good OSF theme for 2013, but in the final outcome I hope Virgil Strickler will forgive me if I stick with AWESOME.

About the Author

Bonnie Ayers is a dairy program specialist at Ohio State University, coordinating all state 4-H dairy programs and coaching the OSU collegiate and 4-H dairy judging teams. She and her husband also own and operate a Brown Swiss and Guernsey cattle farm. In 1994, Bonnie was named Woman of the Year at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis. More Stories by Bonnie Ayers

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