After watching rabbit-judging for about an hour Wednesday morning at the Linn County 4-H and FFA Fair, it appears there are three main ways to control a pen of three fryers:
The Hunch: The showman hunches over the bunnies as they frolic on carpet samples atop a judging table. He or she then envelops them with both arms, much like gathering food items that have fallen through a shopping bag. The motion is repeated numerous times.
The Blinders: The showman stands behind the rabbit and, with both hands, tries to cover their eyes, so they don’t wander off and try to sneak a bite of someone’s ice cream cone or corn dog.
The Shuffle: The showman allows the animals to run free a bit, but continues to pick them up and shuffle them back to their starting point, like an assembly line that never stops moving.
Cole Harnar, 12, of Albany, was one of dozens of young rabbit showmen, doing his best to control his spotted white California breed rabbits.
“Rabbits are fast," he said. "You just have to be faster.”
Harnar, who will be in the seventh grade this fall at Memorial Middle School, likes the California rabbit breed because “they gain weight easily.”
His pen of three rabbits all came in within an ounce of each other, at 5 pounds, 9 ounces, and 5 pounds, 10 ounces each. Market rabbits had to weigh between 4 and 6 pounds. They earned a blue ribbon.
Harnar said it’s important to show confidence during judging.
“The key to raising rabbits is making sure they have good, clean water and plenty of feed,” he said.
Harnar is in his third year as a member of the Carrot Farmers 4-H Club.
“I used to compete in baking and won a grand champion award for ginger snap cookies,” he said.
Next year, he hopes to show goats in addition to his rabbits.
Cole said he enjoys 4-H and the fair.
“I like the way the community comes together for the fair,” he said.
Boden Sayer, 12, took his doe goat, Mandy, for a walk in the cool air Wednesday morning.
“She’s a 2-year-old Boer,” he said. “She’s a good show goat.”
The Sweet Home Aggies 4-H Club member said the secret to training a goat is to work with it almost daily.
“You have to set it up in a show position, and when it stays, you give it treats, food it likes,” he said.
Sayer enjoys helping out at the fair, especially sweeping up around his club’s pen area. But when he’s not at the working end of a broom, he likes to visit the Dairy Women’s booth for ice cream and milkshakes.
As much as he likes Mandy, she has at least one bad habit: “She likes to chew on my pants."
Heath Nichol, 14, of Sweet Home, brought an Angus/Murray Grey cross steer named Gulliver.
“He was a little light at 1,079 pounds,” he said. “But he took first in his class and was 13th overall.”
Nichol said he was going to compete in showmanship Wednesday afternoon.
When he isn’t working with Gulliver, he enjoys “hanging out with other club members and playing cards.”
His favorite fair food? Elephant ears, of course.
Nichol's sister, Shelbey, 16, also brought a crossbred Angus-Murray Grey steer: “Ghost,” who weighs 1,190 pounds.
“He was a lot lighter-colored when we first got him,” she said of his name. “He’s really nice, but he can be a brat because he doesn’t get to walk around much at the fair like he does at home.”
Dallas Headley, 12, was chilling out in a pen that held his two hogs: Oscar, a 288-pound Hampshire-Yorkshire crossbred, and Alisha, a 193-pound breeding pig. Alisha earned a blue ribbon in her class and third in the market class.
“4-H is fun,” Headley said. “It teaches responsibility, and I get to show my pigs.”
His favorite fair food? Deep fried cheese curds.
Not everyone at the fair owns livestock.
Gracie Mehlschau, 9, and her cousin, Tessa Mehlschau, 12, both of Jefferson, enjoyed lounging around with dairy animals owned by the Krahn family.
Gracie enjoyed petting young Norma Jean, a Jersey calf born in March.
“I really like seeing the cows,” she said. “I also like petting them because they are soft and nice.”
And not everyone competing at the fair lives in Linn County.
Hailey McKenzie, 14, lives in Marion County, where she's a member of the Valley Livestock Club. On Wednesday, she was competing in the fair's open sheep and goat classes. She did well last week at the Marion County Fair, earning the champion award for the South Down breed, taking third in the market class, and showing the champion Angora goat and reserve champion doe goat.
Wednesday morning, McKenzie was busy shearing American, a 5-month-old Hampshire-Suffolk crossbred wether. She said the judges like to be able to see the animal’s form without wool in the show ring.
The Linn County Fair continues through Saturday.