By 6 a.m. Rebecca Warfield, 14, feeds and waters nine head of cattle, seven pigs and three sheep. At 9 a.m., she blow-dries her 1,200-pound steer's brown hide for an afternoon show. And before lunchtime, she and sister Kristen, 12, clip a sheep's fleece, checking for brown spots on its white coat.
With the time they spent baking 10 cakes, pies and muffins for the baked goods contest and the two dresses Rebecca sewed, the girls, who live in Woodbine, estimate that they spent more than 200 hours in the past few weeks getting their 4-H projects ready for the 51st Howard County Fair in West Friendship this week.
The annual fair is hard work for the 300 or so dedicated 4-H members such as Rebecca and Kristen, who toil all year for this sleepless week in which they hope to reap the fruits of their labor. After weeks of shoveling manure, washing pigs and sheering and clipping sheep, their busy week will slow down after last night's livestock sale.
Hundreds of people milled into the main show ring at last night's livestock auction as almost 300 buyers bid on steer, pigs and sheep that were the focus of many 4-H'ers hard work and hearts.
"I think I'll really miss my pig because whenever I look down at its pen it will be empty," said Amanda Arrington, 9, as she prepared to lead her 239-pound pig into the show ring.
"I won't hear him down there barking and squealing and I'll always think about how somebody will be eating him, and that's going to hurt."
But for other 4-H'ers, the hours of sweat and hundreds of dollars invested in their animals finally would pay off in cash.
"I'm a bit sad to see him go, but I've known all along that he's raised for meat and not to keep," said Tony Lazzari, who was showing a 1,200-pound Angus steer. "But the check will sure pep me up."
As if the 40 hours a week caring for an animal weren't enough, about 200 4-H club members leave the barns and cross the fairgrounds to enter a pie, a photograph or a craft in the indoor exhibit competitions. That makes for even longer days of preparation.
"There are times when I'm putting a cake mixture in the oven or a loaf of bread in at late hours in the night and then rising a few hours later to go down and lead my steers around the field or feed the pigs," said Rebecca. "It can get hectic.
"But just as you've got to follow a recipe from the beginning to the end, to make sure it turns out tasting good, it's the same thing with the animals. They have to be fed, cared for and trained each day to look good."
The number of rural and suburban 4-H'ers doing both animal and indoor projects has been steadily increasing over the past few years, said Martin Hamilton, county extension service director.
"Whether it's a sewing project, a baked good or showing 300-pound pigs, there are not just the traditional farm kids doing things at the fair, but suburbanites, too, who are doing a variety of projects," he said.
"Those who are crossing over from the barns to the indoor activities are holding their own, even in a county that's not as rural or agricultural as it was 20 years ago."
Most 4-H'ers who live on small farms -- also called "farmettes" -- might enter 4-H to work on photography or a craft project. Then they venture into caring for such smaller animals as rabbits or sheep. The cattle and pigs remain tougher projects, mostly being undertaken by those with 5 or more acres, 4-H leaders said.
Mary Johnson said that five years ago, her eight children entered pies, cakes and crafts. This year, they are showing eight pigs, seven lambs, a steer and a heifer. But caring for the livestock put the baking and craft-making on hold, she said.
Leading her champion heifer away from the main show ring, her daughter Laura Johnson, 15, said the livestock take all her time. "It really takes a lot of dedication, hard work and patience to get your animals and your goods ready to be their best at the show," she said.
"This is where it all pays off. During the year at your house, you learn so much in caring for the animals or in cooking a pie about managing responsibilities in life and that you might not always win."
Curtis Bullock, 12, said he doesn't care what color ribbon he wins from showing his dairy cow and lamb at the fair. The main color he cares about is green. "As long as I can sell them, that's what I'm concerned with," said Curtis, who lives in Ellicott City and boards his animals at a neighboring farm.
"I'd really like to use the money I get for some new CDs."
Pub Date: 8/15/96