The signs of a coronavirus-adapted county fair were evident Wednesday by the sounds, or lack of them: an odd quiet except for the bleating of sheep, mask-muffled conversations and a loudspeaker announcement about face coverings.
“Everybody’s been social distancing pretty well,” said Vern Peterson, an event greeter at the La Plata County Fairgrounds Pavilion entrance.
The La Plata County Fair, gutted by the pandemic, felt bittersweet to many attendees. But overall, they were just happy the youth livestock shows could take place, they said.
County fair organizers restructured the entire weeklong event to comply with public health requirements during the coronavirus pandemic. The only in-person events were 4-H and Future Farmers of America livestock shows and a Junior Auction Saturday. Wednesday was sheep day – the end of a month’s worth of work for about 30 young competitors.
Annabel Carithers, a 14-year-old student enrolled with Durango School District 9-R, won first place in her group.
“To begin with, I chose the right body type,” she said – stout and muscular with long, thick legs. To prepare the animals, she ran a quarter-mile with them, walked them and trained them in showmanship techniques each day.
During the market sheep, small groups of young farmers led semi-unruly sheep into a pen. Judges were looking for the right combination of body structure, muscle and conditioning, said Isaac Greer, a 14-year-old competitor and judge from Hesperus.
After the judging, the first-place winner in each division competes for the grand champion title. Then the young farmers turn their attention to Saturday’s Junior Auction.
Greer said he’d be happy to walk away with $4 per pound, or about $4,800 for a 1,200-pound steer. That money goes straight to his college savings, he said.
Carithers said two years ago, she earned $2,160 for her lamb in the auction – money she used to support her ski racing activities, buy new livestock and save for college. This year, she’s just hoping for a buyer.
“I just hope … everyone makes sale because everyone’s been working so hard,” Carithers said.
The auction will take place at 5 p.m. Saturday, with pre-registration requested. In all, 215 young farmers signed up for the fair, which kicked off Monday with poultry and Tuesday with goats. The livestock shows will continue Thursday with beef and swine showmanship, and Friday with the market swine show.
Other events, like the demolition derby, carnival and dance, were canceled; however, organizers also adapted some of the annual non-livestock projects. About 75 young people, from ages 5 to 18, submitted Lego spaceships, woodworking projects, shooting or archery presentations, cake creations and more.
“Normally, it’s a couple of hours of chaos,” Fountain said. Hundreds of kids would be milling around. This year, the room was quiet and empty, except for judges roaming among the presentations.
“It’s very calm today,” Fountain said. “All of the judges were obviously very sad about not being able to interview the kids. That, of course, is their favorite part.”
Despite the lost events, 4-H Club leaders, parents and organizers were all glad the youth shows could take place.
Without the fair, most kids would lose their investment in their livestock, said Jenna Greer, a parent at the show. It’d take away an opportunity to learn and grow their craft.
“They work with them every day ... so it’s really nice for them to be able to show them and learn a little bit more,” Greer said.