By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Fina Blain has scratches up and down her bare arms. They are very visible on a hot Friday in July.
“They’re from my rabbit,” Fina explains, putting on a sweatshirt despite the heat in the show barn at the Park County Fairgrounds in Powell. The sweatshirt protects her from the fluffy bunny’s sharp claws that have marked up both her arms, as well as her mom’s face.
Mom, Laura, waves off any concern about the two red lines on her cheek. Seems this sort of thing happens a lot when you’re working with livestock at the county fair.
Year ’round Preparation
For the Blain girls – mom Laura, along with 17-year-old Josefina (Fina for short), and 16-year-old Tiegan – the county fair is on their minds year-round.
“We work on stuff all year,” Fina said, explaining that their planning for the next year begins as soon as they drive away from the fairgrounds at the end of fair week.
“The art (projects) we’ve been working on since last year,” Fina said. “And cooking we did the week before so they stay fresh, then froze them.”
Tiegan said they picked up their lambs in April, and have been raising them in preparation for this week’s showing.
Laura told Cowboy State Daily that this annual focus is a continuation of her own childhood activities.
“I showed here at the Park County Fair for 10 or 11 years, however many years you can show,” she said. “I started when I was eight, and showed until I was a senior in high school in 4H and FFA with steers and the art stuff my girls are doing.”
Both Fina and Tiegan attend Cody High School and participate in 4H raising small livestock. Laura said the girls pick their own fair projects each year – this week Tiegan is showing her lamb and rabbit, “Buddy,” as well as art and baking submissions.
“I entered the King Arthur’s baking contest for cinnamon rolls,” she said. “And then I took art and other cooking and rabbits and my lamb.”
Fina loves to take photographs, but didn’t submit any photos for judging this year. Instead, she has two pencil sketches, along with her baking projects. And to show in the small animal “Round Robin,” Fina brought a veritable miniature zoo.
“I have to show my rabbit, a chicken, my dog, my miniature horse, and my cat,” she said.
And Fina is resourceful – in preparing for showing these various animals, she drew from a number of sources.
“I remember how I did it last year,” she said. “And then Google and ask a lot of other people.”
Laura said the girls have very different approaches leading up to fair week – Fina is ultra-organized, but Tiegan waits until the last minute to prepare her submissions.
“It’ll be the last couple weeks, and Tiegan is rushing around doing her art projects,” Laura said, while Fina has everything prepared in advance.
Tiegan said the rabbit competition is tough this year.
“There’s a lot of upcoming showmen,” she said. “There’s like 10 beginners, 12 juniors and 17 intermediates. That’s really exciting.”
It Takes A Village
Preparing for all of these projects is a group effort, said Laura.
“Their grandparents (Laura’s parents, Kurt and Donna) helped them with taking them down to get their animals and stuff,” Laura said. “And the girls do all the picking of their own animals, and they organize when they’re going to work with them and how they’re going to care for them. And then I’m just kind of in the background saying, ‘Hey, remember you’ve got to do this too,’ or whatever. They do a lot of it on their own.”
The girls credit experienced county fair mentors with helping them learn the finer points of livestock raising.
“The person who’s now running the rabbit barn was the one who really influenced us on showing rabbits,” said Tiegan.
When the girls wanted something a little more challenging, their mom encouraged them to show lambs.
“We wanted to get into the larger livestock,” Fina said, “but Mom said ‘You can’t jump right into steers, let’s take a baby step and move up to sheep, because you have to shear them.’ And we have some really good friends who have shown sheep their whole lives, and we’re like, ‘Hey, you want to come help us with this?’”
Laura said the week of the fair is exceptionally busy. From Sunday through the next Saturday, each day is filled with setting up, tending animals, and showing their livestock.
“We spend a lot more time with animals, working on them,” she said. “They feed. They spend a couple of hours in the cool evening time working with the animals, practicing leading and showing and that kind of stuff. Then they do several hours of shearing their sheep, or brushing the rabbits, and cleaning them up and getting them ready.”
But they make sure to take in the fair atmosphere while they’re working. Sitting under the tent at the free stage, Tiegan is finishing an ice cream cone, and lamenting the lack of food choices as compared to previous years.
“(The food is) generally pretty good,” she said. “It’s a lot of greasy food, but this year, there’s not a whole lot here. It’s kind of sad.”
Continuing the Tradition
Both Fina and Tiegan say they want to continue to participate in the county fair, even after they graduate high school in a few years.
“I think how it works is that you can do FFA after you graduate high school, for a little while,” said Tiegan. “And I think I’m going to do it as long as I can show my animals. And then definitely if I have kids, I want them to start this, too.”