Cole Neil was disappointed when the Bremer County Fair Association announced the cancellation of the 2020 fair.
“The fair is kind of a vacation for my family at the end of the summer,” said Neil, a graduate of Wapsie Valley High School and a member of the Rainbow Clovers 4-H Club in the Fairbank area. “We work all summer, and then we go to the state fair and county fair the last two weeks before we go back to school.”
Aubrey Moeller, of Waverly, a member of the Tri-Rivers Trendsetters club, also didn’t expect to be able to show her market gilts for the Sunday swine show.
“I thought they were going to cancel the state fair and that Bremer County would follow,” Moeller said. “I wasn’t going to be able to show my pigs.”
However, the Iowa State University Bremer County Extension decided to throw the kids in the 4-H clubs and the Waverly-Shell Rock, Wapsie Valley and Nashua-Plainfield FFA chapters a lifeline to hold “show-and-go” events for their animals as well as their crop and static projects during the same week as when the fair was going to be held, from Sunday through Friday.
The animal events began Sunday morning with the swine show followed by the rabbits that afternoon. Monday’s events included a dog show and goat show in the morning, with a pet show in the afternoon.
The rest of the week will include horses and sheep on Tuesday, poultry on Wednesday, beef on Thursday and dairy cattle on Friday. All events are closed to the public due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Krysha Geffert, of Lavelle, Wisconsin, served as the judge for Sunday’s swine competition. She occasionally told the small crowd of less than 100 family members of the participants how fortunate the kids were that they could show off their pigs. She said that when the virus struck, many fairs around the country to where she had previously traveled had totally cancelled, including the livestock events.
“I was happy they had a show,” Geffert said afterwards. “It’s not like that in every part of the country, so I enjoyed being here to get to work with them.”
Ron Lenth, director of the Bremer County Extension, said the shows are a nice compromise for safety and the youth of the county.
“As we planned this over the last couple of months, those were our major issues,” Lenth said. “We wanted to give our kids an opportunity to show all of the work that they’ve done, but also in a safe, manageable condition.
“That’s a challenge, but it’s been working.”
The hogs were brought to the Memorial Park grounds early Sunday morning, where they were weighed and checked-in before allowed to go into the barns. The trucks and trailers had to enter the grounds to the east of the 4-H building and exit to the west, where the main gate is, to provide one-way traffic.
The show got underway just after 9 a.m. and wrapped up by 11:30 a.m. The program had just 15 classes, with four in the Share-A-Pig category, seven in the individual market pig, two for breeding gilts, and a combined competition of the two classes of market pig pairs.
Periodically during the show, Lenth and Extension intern Emilie Spratt sprayed a sanitizing solution along the rails. Also, several staff members wore masks, with youth coordinator Cody Emery wearing a face shield.
Afterwards, the pigs were loaded back on their trailers and taken home, unlike previous fairs when they stayed much of the week.
They still gave out the blue ribbons for most participants as well as the purple and lavender ribbons for the champions and reserve champions. Those winners will still move on to state competition at the Iowa State Fairgrounds over three weekends from Aug. 6-22.
Neil, from Rainbow Clovers, earned champion and reserve champion status for his market hogs, while Moeller, from Tri-Rivers Trendsetters, got a purple ribbon for her pair of market hogs and a light-purple one her breeder pig.
Neil, who will attend Iowa State in the fall, was glad for he and his peers to be able to show their projects despite the virus.
“Even though we’re not here for a week, we still got to take them (the hogs) out to show them and have a little fun,” he said. “(Going to state) is always fun. The competition is pretty good down there, but we just go for a good time and see how we get along.”
Moeller thought winning her honors was an awesome feeling.
“When we started out, these pigs were the most hard-headed pigs to start ever, and now they’ve really blossomed,” she said. “They were really easy driving, and it really paid off.”
She said her gilt will go on to state, while she’ll have different barrows shown in Des Moines.
“Hopefully, we can do as well as we did here,” Moeller said.
Geffert, the judge, said the theme to the day was being able to adapt to the circumstances COVID-19 provided.
“I think they’ve all handled it well, and having activities for kids to do — like showing, going out to the barn and working with those pigs — would be good for mental health,” she said. “I know it was good for mine to get out of the house and do things. I assume it’s the same for them.”