Fair Season is one of our busiest, but greatest times of year for a few reasons. First, we do not just go to our county fair, Winnebago, but also to surrounding counties such as Stephenson, Boone, Ogle, Mchenry, and Dekalb. We supply meat to a few of the food vendors, so there are many butterfly pork chops to get cut and brats and pulled pork to be made and delivered, among other products.
We also process a large portion of the beef cattle, hogs and lambs that are shown by the 4-H’ers at the fairs, which if you are an area farmer that brings us hogs or cattle, you know those are the weeks we cannot get you booked in. Winnebago County Fair and Boone County Fair are the two largest fairs for the number of animals we get in, so those are marked off on our calendar. That also means that we usually do not accept any catering jobs at that time. Everything we have gets thrown at getting those animals processed and to the customer in an optimal time frame for quality of the meat.
The most fun part of fair season though are those 4-H’ers I mentioned. Those kids work so hard for months learning to raise, handle, and care for their animal. It’s not easy for many of them when they have to say goodbye in the show ring at the fair’s livestock auction. But they understand the importance of what they have learned. Besides the work ethic and strength that they gained, they have learned to appreciate what goes into raising quality livestock to feed people in our community.
We always try to make it to each fair’s auction every year to purchase animals and support those kids. We walk the barns many times looking over the animals and asking the kids questions. Many of the 4-H youth send us letters telling us about their animal and what they’ve learned, and asking us to consider purchasing their animal at the auction. We wish we could get them all, and it’s always hard to choose, but we know we are lucky to be in this community where no animal will go unsold. Over the years we have been fortunate to witness multiple touching moments where kids chose to donate the proceeds from their animal in the auction to a family that had suffered a tragedy, and then the purchaser donated it back and was auctioned again to raise more money. This is what our community does, pulling together and helping our neighbors in need, and these moments are yet more lessons the kids witness.
So even though we are often swamped and more than a little hectic at times during fair season, it’s also fun and always worth it.
Next time you go to the county fairs for rides and corn dogs, and stop by to check out the cute but smelly farm animals, take a look around at the kids with their animals. There is a lot more going on behind the scenes than some visitors ever realize. Maybe even ask one of them how your kid can join 4-H. http://web.extension.illinois.edu/jsw/winnebago4h/