At the sound of the bell they were off. Five squealing pigs racing around an oval track, kicking up their hooves in the Dash for Mash.
"I understand the loser is going to be invited to my house for dinner tonight," the announcer joked as the pigs scrambled by toward a bucket of slop.
Just hours after the Harford County Farm Fair opened its gates yesterday, the first of wave of visitors was trampling the grass on the Equestrian Center grounds. Fair officials said they expected record crowds.
Children flocked to the face-painting booths, adults munched on hot dogs, and at noon, almost everyone hurried to the track to watch the animal races.
White pigs, black pigs, goats, and ducks scrambled through the dirt as onlookers watched and cheered from behind a rope barrier.
"I liked the white pigs the best," said Crystal Gomeringer, 5. "They were the fastest. They were the only ones that were really running."
Another big attraction was a dunking booth sponsored by the Bel Air Police Department. Perched on a tiny chair above a big tub of water, an officer shouted mock insults at the kids who threw balls at a target that would tip the chair and give him a bath.
Chris Heidel, 10, a four-year veteran of Little League baseball, sank the officer on all three tries. His younger brother, Matthew, 7, also a Little Leaguer, hit the target once, after the officer's teasing sparked his temper.
"I'm going to take that baseball cap if you don't get me this time!" the officer taunted.
Matthew focused his eyes on the target, and splash! The officer was soaked.
The pool water looked appealing in the hot afternoon sun, as temperatures reached 95 degrees. Fair-goers frequented the soda stands throughout the day, and enjoyed breezes that made the heat bearable.
But the heat was hard on the animals at the fair, said 4-H Club members who cared for their cows, horses, goats, rabbits and pigs.
Some of the bunnies had signs on their cages that read, "I'm moody and hot, so please don't touch me. I might bite."
But other animals -- in the Harford County Farm Bureau's Barnyard -- were selected for display because they were friendly, even to children who stuck tiny hands through the fences to touch them.
A popular barnyard attraction was a 14-month-old Vietnamese potbelly pig, who shared a pen with her six piglets, born last Sunday.
While fair-goers petted the barnyard animals, the 4-H members got down to business, washing and grooming their charges for the official judging.
Heath Miller, 11, guarded his family's seven Holstein cows with the help of his sister Courtney, 16; his brother Jarrod, 14, and friend Jody Hochscein, 14. The Miller kids said they have awakened at 7:30 almost every day they can remember to feed and wash their cows and pigs. Now they're hoping for a top prize.
In addition to dozens of 4-H Club members and fair volunteers, visitors flocked to the fair showcases and events.
The fair, which will continue through the weekend, is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for children 6-12, and free for children under 6. Parking is free.