Potomac News Online | Animals at fair give glimpse of farm life
SPECIAL REPORT Hog Wild at the fair
Steve Boger’s efforts cover a large section of the grassy, well-worn mounds of dirt.
Every animal even remotely associated with farm living, and even some that aren’t, is enclosed in several sections dedicated to Hambone Express at the 56th Annual Prince William County Fair.
Boger and his family’s love of animals prompted him to found Hambone 12 years ago. Boger and a staff of five, including his wife, Suzi, travel 11 months of the year to bring 146 animals to show venues all over the country. The four-legged professionals – sheep, goats, chickens, horses, even Bob the Giant Pig (1,200 pounds) – draw a steady stream of curious onlookers who don’t mind shelling out a few bucks to purchase their very own cup of feed for the well-behaved crew.
The cost of insurance and fuel for three tractor trailers is high, but then, so are the rewards, Boger said.
“A lot of these people come out and they’ve never seen animals before,” said Boger, a Kansas, Okla., resident.
About 88,000 people attended last year’s fair – drawn by the dizzyingly high rides, charbroiled scents and competitive games. The animals are just as much a staple in the county’s fair, where animal owners young and old vie for colorful satin ribbons for the best livestock presentation.
While some are competing for titles, others are earning a living traveling to shows more often than not. Regardless of whether the work is intended to produce ribbons or wages, it is still work, many say.
“It’s a learning experience,” said Kraig Smith, 12. The young owner of 45 head of cattle, most of which remained on the family farm in Catlett, walked away with a bevy of ribbons in the dairy cow showing Tuesday, including the first-place spring calf and the Buddy Gough Award for most points. Competing under the combined family farm name HHF & NF Farms, he also had big hopes for the beef division.
A member of his local 4-H club in Catlett, Kraig is continuing a long family tradition of raising cattle. Long hours spent cleaning, feeding, milking and preparing the topline – using an adhesive to make the hairs on the cow’s spine stand at attention – are par for the course. But so, unfortunately, is the increased cost of selling the beverage that does a body good, according to Lisa Smith, Kraig’s mother.
Though the price of feed and labor has increased, the income the Smith family receives from selling the milk has not, Lisa Smith said. Still, competing several times a year is a fun family affair that can earn college dollars for Kraig, as well as a sense of accomplishment.
“It’s fun for the kids … and some of the people we’re showing with, we’ve shown with all our lives,” Lisa Smith said.
Richardsville resident Thomas Dwyer has been competing for the love of the show for 36 years, rather than the money.
“It’s definitely not for the money because I don’t make enough money to support it,” said Dwyer, sitting beside his fiancee Carolyn Ryan on Tuesday morning.
Dwyer beamed as he pointed at his three awards, including Grand Champion, for his 30 chickens. Fed a special diet and kept separate from his other chickens, the show chickens are transported by trailer to about eight shows annually.
Dwyer, a full-time concrete cutter, started raising poultry when his two children were involved in 4-H, but he has continued the hobby even though they are grown now.
“The enjoyment of doing it. The fun of getting the ribbons,” said Dwyer, referring to his motivation for contending with the difficult task of bathing chickens before a competition.