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Don’t skip 4-H at the county fair

It’s Olmsted County Fair time. For some folks, the fair is just the midway, slice and dice demonstrations and food vendors. They are missing the real action at the fairgrounds — 4-H. The fair is the finish line for 4-H kids all around the county. Projects or animals will be judged, ribbons handed out and the trip to the fair all set.

If you were to take the 4-H tour, you might make your way through an exhibit building or take the kids to see the rabbits or cows.

Livestock seems to get more traffic than the chocolate cake.

But hold on. Let’s take a moment to shine a spotlight on the most overlooked of the livestock exhibits: the poultry barn.

I was a "chicken girl" for many years in 4-H. The year I "tried" to show a steer notwithstanding, the only livestock I ever brought were chickens.

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Our family would raise 60 fuzzy little Cornish Rock chicks every spring resulting in what I’ll call the end of the summer "Chicken Day," in case you are reading this to your family at dinner time (how appropriate).

During August though, I would choose the best of the bunch for a special spa day that hopefully would end with a first place ribbon at 4-H Achievement Days.

Despite the number of chickens to choose from, my task wasn’t hard. You pick a 4-H chicken much like Hugh Hefner picks a Playboy bunny: You want one that’s tall, has shapely legs and boasts a big bust.

I’d take the three chosen chickens to the mudroom sink, where they would enjoy a relaxing bath to clean them up and then a Vaseline massage for their legs and comb. They loved it.

The next morning these rock-star chickens would head to town in a special cage for the judging. (By the way, did you know you can calm a chicken by massaging it under the wings right above the leg, or under its chin? I’m not sure when that fact might benefit you, but keep it in your back pocket just in case.) 

The judge checks over the set of three, examines each one carefully and gives them their placing. I’m not bragging — just stating a fact — to say that I won first place more years than I did not. I even won a chicken showmanship trophy one year. 

At this year’s county fair, make a point to stop by the poultry barn or any of the exhibit buildings to high-five a 4-H kid.

They are flying high, having a lot of fun and happy to have their work recognized, at the same time not recognizing the lessons being learned. Things like planning, dedication and the judging process stay with you for a lifetime.

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So do the life lessons and a snazzy chicken trophy.

Join Tracy McCray during her Talk of the Town blogs Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11:30 a.m.

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