The fair season is over, and the Highland Riders 4H kids and their ribbon-winning animal associates can look back on it with satisfaction. I call the cattle “associates” because the kids don't actually own them. None of the Highland Riders live on farms, so they have to find animals to raise.
At Miles Smith Farm we usually have a crop of 10 to 15 Highland calves each year, so it makes sense to lease these animals to eager 4Hers. The youngsters pay about $10 a month for young critters and as much as $25 a month for older cattle (who eat more hay).
The youngsters learn how to groom, feed and train the heifers they lease. The kids pick heifers because there are many competition classes for females, but only a few for steers and bulls. Cows can be shown with their calves for years in the “aged cow” classes, but bulls and steers can't be shown after they reach 18 months. Older bulls are considered too dangerous to show, and steers are supposed to be shipped for beef sometime after 18 months.
During the summer and fall, the kids compete against other 4H members at fairs. The kids have to wear khaki pants, white shirts, belts, and boots. Cows wear their birthday suits.
The one time the cattle get dressed for the show ring is for the 4H costume competition. The kids dress their animals and themselves in coordinated outfits. This year the Highland Riders picked three different themes. Ten-year-old Miles wore a cowboy hat and put a hat on his heifer, Kiley. He explained to the judge that he was the “cowboy” and Kiley was the “cowgirl.” Kiley, peeking out from behind the hat hanging on her horns, surveyed the crowd and mooed in agreement. The judge was impressed that she did not try to dump the hat.
For this competition, the cattle have to be willing partners, which is not always the case. Lilly's heifer wore a pink tutu and Lilly wore wings to imitate Watermelon Fairies. Ryder, a Highlander heifer, came dressed as a Holstein dairy cow with Olivia dressed in overalls emulating a dairy farmer. This was Olivia's second choice for a costume. She had planned to wear an English riding jacket, jodhpurs, and boots while riding Star-the-Heifer into the ring. But Star bucked off the saddle in rehearsal, so Olivia came up with the dairy idea. Then right before showtime at the Deerfield Fair, Star acted up while wearing the dairy disguise. So Ryder was recruited at the last minute, and she wore the black spots like she was born a Holstein.
The costume class is judged by the audience. Each pair is introduced and the spectators clap, shout and whoop for their favorite. This year, Olivia and Holstein-imitator Ryder narrowly won after the judge explained, “With milk prices down, dairy farmers need all the support they can get!”
Yes, once again, this year visitors got an eyeful at the Deerfield Fair – from a Scottish Highlander masquerading as a Holstein to a mom nursing her baby in public – and that was just in the beef barn!