County Fair kicks off with animals galore
ALPENA — The animals are ready to get the party started at the Alpena County Fair. Rides and concerts have yet to begin, but Sunday was still a busy day at the fair, full of the squawks, squeals, and snorts of friendly competition.
At the poultry barn, chickens in stacked cages, from miniature feather-footed foul to punk-rocker plumaged Polish hens, cock-a-doodle-dooed and shook their tail feathers for a judge who made the rounds of the cages, peering between bars.
Nearby, a handful of teenagers in white shirts stood talking with turkeys between their feet, waiting for the next competition to start. When the judge called their class, a line of young people strode confidently to a waiting table, each with a large bird tucked under one arm, tail sailing in first and head to the rear.
Waiting his turn, a boy sat on a bench, gently tapping his white goose affectionately on the beak.
Several dozen noses twitched rapidly in the rabbit barn, balls of fluff resting up for their turn before the judges Wednesday. The next building over, goats stood on hind legs to investigate passers-by and emit an occasional, throaty, “Baah.” In the swine barn, enormous black and pink pigs lay on their sides, grunting contentedly in scattered hay.
Horses were the stars at the arena near the horse and cattle barns, showing their stuff for a relaxed audience. Riders, from a seven-year-old on a pony to experienced adults on towering, large-muscled horses, competed in pleasure and speed shows. The morning show of responsiveness and docility allowed the horses to demonstrate that they were, indeed, a pleasure to work with.
In the afternoon, riders raced their mounts around barrels and spun them in neat turns, one at a time, dirt clods spattering from beneath the horses’ hefty hooves as they thundered to the finish line. A winner in each age bracket was called to the announcer’s booth for a prize.
Courtesy is important, and the fair was just getting underway, the announcer reminded riders between events: “Let’s pick up our poo.”
Amanda Johnson, 17, ran her 13-year-old horse, Halo, through the cloverleaf pattern twice, the first run scratched because of a timer error. The second go-round, Halo balked at the barrels, skitting away and eliminating Johnson from contention for the announcers’ prize.
Johnson, who has been around horses her whole life but only run barrels for the past two years, wasn’t rattled by Halo’s glitch. Training for competitions is more intense than most people realize, and it’s hard work not only for the rider but also for the horse, Johnson said.
“You have to take a step back and make sure they know what they’re doing, too,” she explained.
Girls in kicky cowboy boots and pony tails, folding ropes and talking horses. Support-staff moms tailing their independent 4-H’ers as they checked on their chickens. A bandanna-topped woman in a soapy t-shirt giving a scrubdown to a sheep as it unconcernedly chomped grain from a trough. The livestock end of the county fair feels like home to farmy-types who know and love the animal-raising life. To adults who grew up secretly wishing they could ride a horse or hold a chicken, it feels like magic.
Three bucks admission very well spent.
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jriddleX.