From the time they turn 8 to when they become ineligible at age 21, Lebanon County youth can bring their livestock to the Lebanon Area Fair and compete in youth animal exhibitions.
Many of the animals that can be seen in pens and cages throughout the fair are meticulously cared for by youth exhibitors, who then compete the livestock in exhibitions throughout the week.
Exhibiting an animal is a lot of responsibility: over the course of the fair, youth exhibitors feed, bathe, and otherwise prepare their animals to be shown to judges.
“You have to practice taking your animal, make sure they’re comfortable next to you,” said 11-year-old Georgia Sellers, who is showing dairy cattle.
Sellers, along with many other youth exhibitors, also competed livestock last year. Due to the pandemic, all showings occurred in one day.
“Last year was easy because it was all in one day, but you didn’t get the experience of a week-long show,” Sellers reflected. “I feel like last year just went a little too fast.”
Many youth exhibitors compete alongside family members, such as sisters Kaylie and Katelyn Ecenroad, who show market lambs.
Older sister Katelyn has been competing for four years, while Kaylie has been competing for two.
“It can be sometimes hard when you lose and sometimes it’s fun when you win,” said Kaylie. “Two years ago I won and I was really proud of myself.”
In preparation for showing, the Ecenroads have sheared their lambs and worked on ensuring that all six lambs are as healthy as can be.
“[Competing has] been good, I like the experience,” said Katelyn. “I think we’ll do pretty well.”
Another youth exhibitor, 11-year-old Olivia Weber, has her hands full with competing multiple types of livestock. Weber shows cows, goats, and hogs, but cows are her personal favorite to work with.
“It takes a lot of hard work and responsibility,” said Weber on showing animals. “It’s a lot of equipment-like things needed to feed them and give them their water.”
Weber is hopeful that her livestock will be competitive in this year’s exhibition. Results are based on how well each animal measures against the ideal animal of that species, breed, and sex. Animals are also compared to others competing.
“I like to try and win things in showing,” said Weber, but noting that her performance this year “all depends on who else is going to be in their class.”
As youth competitors continue showing and get older, they learn more about how to properly show animals and select which ones to compete, as sisters Ravyn and Millena Bashore can attest.
Ravyn, 18, and 20-year-old Millena have each been showing dairy cows since they were 8 years old.
“Over the years I’ve progressed my knowledge and improved my showing skills,” said Ravyn. “Starting at a young age, you get to learn different things each year. Now, I can show a cow a lot better than when I was 10.”
Ravyn considers events like the Lebanon Area Fair to be important, as they give consumers a chance to interact directly with farmers. She says this allows them to clear up misconceptions about their jobs and answer questions consumers may have about dairy.
“Fairs like this are a good way for the public to come out and speak to farmers, see how farmers take care of their animals,” said Ravyn. “Our animals come first; they eat before we do, they get more showers here at the fair than we do.”
For Millena, this year is a bittersweet one, as it is the last time she can show in youth exhibitions. However, as the middle of five children, Millena can continue to watch her two younger siblings show animals for a few more years. By the time they age out, she says, her nephew will be old enough to start showing.
“Looking back, I feel old, I feel accomplished, I really do,” said Millena. “I’m aging out, yes, but there are kids that are 8 years old that are really, really involved with it and I know that they’re going to continue on with it.
“It makes me really hopeful that I can look back at my siblings who are younger than me and know that they still have a couple of years yet to enjoy every minute that they can.”
Millena and Ravyn are fifth-generation farmers, on both their mother’s side and their father’s. Millena hopes to occasionally compete in open showing herself going forward, but hopes to keep the family tradition alive when it comes time.
“I would love to eventually get married and have some children, too, and I would love to have them involved with it as well,” said Millena.
One of Millena’s favorite parts of showing over the years, though, is the way exhibitors grow close with one another.
“Ours is a really big family, and everybody in this barn I know by their first and last name,” said Millena. “They’re like an extended family.
“Other farms and other families have had trauma and disasters happen to their farm and we’ve all come out and helped each other out because that’s what we do as a big livestock and show family.”
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