’Tis the season for livestock shows. The granddaddy of them all in Indiana is the 4-H and open shows that happen at the state fair. No doubt you’ve watched well-groomed beef or dairy cattle parade through the ring. Did you ever wonder what happens way behind the scenes — all the way down to the crews that clean the barns and show rings and help exhibitors load and unload supplies?
At the 2016 Indiana State Fair, I volunteered to chaperone the Franklin FFA Chapter barn crew for a couple of days. Ten members at a time sweep aisles, serve as official “pooper scoopers” in the show ring during dairy shows, and more.
“Put me on whatever days you need,” I told the organizer. “It really doesn’t matter.”
Oh, yes, it does! I learned the hard way.
Friday, Aug. 10, dawned hot and humid. Seven boys and I had slept on cots in a prison-gray painted room above the barn. The boys played freeze-out with the air conditioner, still cooling off from the day before.
This was the day the dairy exhibitors, both 4-H and open class, moved into the barn.
I soon learned that “moved” means just that — they literally pack up their farm and head to the fair. Some bring whole trailers full of tack: show boxes, cots, even soft chairs and maybe a couch. And hay and straw — do they bring hay and straw!
Soon our crew was split among three garden tractors pulling trailers. I took up residence outside the barn, where I could help direct the next crew to the next waiting trailer. If you think the Indy 500 is nonstop action, you should work the Indiana State Fair cattle barn on “dairy day.”
At one point in the day, one of the kids came up on foot. “We can’t find where to unload this stuff,” he said. “We lost track of the exhibitor trying to navigate down the aisles.”
Just another crisis in dairyland; the exhibitor soon came looking for her stuff, solving that crisis.
How hot was it? The kind folks in the Cattle Department brought water several times, popsicles twice, and lunch and dinner. There were no actual lunch breaks that day.
It was 4 p.m. and I was exhausted. Trailers were still coming in. “I’ve got a nose bleed, Mr. Bechman,” said one hard-working young man, with a rag stuck to his nose.
“OK, get into the air conditioning,” I told him.
Yet another crisis. His nose bleed eventually stopped, but only after a couple of hours.
If you’re bringing dairy cattle this year, here’s a tip. If the next crew waiting to help you consists of boys, send the prettiest person with you to ask for help, and that doesn’t mean the prettiest calf. Suddenly, whining about sweating ceases!
The parade of trailers didn’t end until nearly 10 p.m. My crews estimated they moved at least 3,000 bales of hay and straw, tons of feed, enough furniture to fill several living rooms, tents, feed pans and lots more stuff. It turned out to be a 15-hour day.
But hey, just another crisis. Mother Nature solved this one. It rained the next morning, and some very tired barn kids slept in.
Gotta love those dairy people! We’re bringing more troops this year for “dairy day” — we’ll see you there!