After a week of rain, the clouds dispersed to let the sun shine through at the Howard County Fairgrounds. It was May 21, the day of the annual WILLS Fair.
The WILLS Fair is one of four regional spring livestock shows for 4-H'ers in Maryland. It provides 4-H'ers an opportunity to practice their showmanship skills with their project animal. The show is named in honor of Richard N. Wills who spent 50 years providing leadership in agricultural activities for both youth and adults.
In Building 1, young people gathered at 8 a.m. with cages in hand, carting rabbits and cavies. (For the general public, cavies are what we know as guinea pigs.) Many 4-H'ers busied themselves brushing their animals and clipping toenails to get them ready for the show table.
Next door, the poultry exhibits were starting to check in. Chickens, ducks, geese, and guineas squawked in cages along the walls. I was told that when the show started, classes of animals would be called up and placed in pens in the center of the room for judging.
All up and down the main road, trucks pulling trailers were parked while 4-H'ers unloaded steers and dairy cows of all breeds and colors. Once in the barns, last minute grooming had begun. Using what amounted to a large blow-dryer, youth blew out the animals' coats to make the hair stand up. Combs were used to for touch-ups.
Steers and dairy are judged twice, once to demonstrate the showmanship of the handler. The second time, in the afternoon, the animals are led again to the show ring to be judged on their body type. In both cases, 4-H'ers use show sticks to set their feet square and to scratch their bellies to keep them calm.
The Sheep and Goat Building was the scene of multiple shows running simultaneously. In one ring, young helfers and cows were being shown. In the second ring, sheep were being judged. Goats could be seen in a third ring. Each were being led by a 4-H'er who carried that animal as a 4-H project.
The Main Exhibition Building was the setting for the dog show. This year 29 dogs were shown in a variety of obedience, fitting and showing, fun and rally classes. Rally is a new competition this year at the WILLS Fair. 4-H'ers competing must walk their dogs through a series of cones and signs. At each, they must stop and have their dog perform an obedience command, as directed by the sign. Unlike the obedience competition, the youth are allowed to talk to their dogs throughout the competition. The fun classes give the 4-H'er and dog a chance to show off tricks that the dog has learned.
The WILLS Fair is a one-day event. Some shows, such as the dog show and the rabbit show, are only a few hours long and are completed around midday. Other shows, such as the steers, last a few hours longer.
The general public is welcome to attend the WILLS Fair. Most people there, however, are 4-H'ers and their families. There's some visiting between shows, as 4-H'ers considering picking up a new project go to learn about showing that animal. Even if you're not in 4-H, it's a good place to learn about various animals as 4-H'ers are always willing to talk with youth about their projects.
If you missed this year's show, consider dropping in next year. See you there.