Mills column: Growing up at the county fair
With the Garfield County Fair just around the bend, I can’t help but reminisce about my time spent in 4-H, attending the local county fair and the lessons I learned back in southern Idaho.
For my brothers and me, it was a rite of passage and a family affair.
Growing up around chickens, pigs, cattle, horses and more, it was a natural progression when you turned 9; you entered your first livestock project in the county fair.
For me it was a little easier than for most first-time 4-Hers. Not only did my three brothers and I join 4-H, but my mom and dad as well, who jumped in and took over as leaders of one of the local clubs.
I think my mom had the hardest job. Not only did she have to wrangle her own children, who were within 5 years of each other, but she also took on 20 other children during our weekly meetings.
With three older brothers, I had a chance to watch and learn a few years before I threw my hat in the show ring.
Like any little brother, I emulated my big brothers and wanted to follow their every move, so I entered a steer right out of the gates.
My first steer was a Black Baldy, a type of crossbred beef cattle that was the result of breeding between a Hereford and Angus.
He was jet black with a white face with black polka dots covering it. When I first picked him out in the spring of 1985 he was still growing, but by the time the fair came around he weighed over 1,000 pounds.
For the life of me I can’t remember his name, which makes me a bit sad — they do say your memory is the first to go. I’m sure it was something after a character out of a Louis L’Amour book, my favorite childhood author.
I don’t know how tall I would have been when I was 9, but I do know I weighed in at no more than 65 pounds, soaking wet.
An animal that size can be intimidating no matter how big or small you are.
Not wanting to show any weakness in front of my siblings, I would do my best to handle my steer without showing the struggle to keep him in line.
It never failed that when my steer tired of me messing around with him all he needed to do was toss his head, and off the ground I would go.
I was always told never to let go of your animal, no matter what, so I would never let go or show an ounce of fear in front of my brothers.
It also helped that my dad was always close by, knowing when he needed to step in and when to let me find my own way.
It didn’t hurt either that my dad was a cattle whisperer of sorts.
A big burly man, standing 6-foot-3 tall and tipping the scale at 230 pounds, as a young boy he was a giant in my eyes.
After months of working daily with my steer, and taking him for walks around the farm, he was as tame and docile as our family pets.
He would come running when I called for him and would even let me sit on him when he was relaxing.
There is nothing like the bond you have with your first 4-H animal. Endless hours spent together, feeding and watering your animal and practicing leading and setting up your steer and getting him used to the show stick.
4-H and the county fair not only instilled in me a work ethic, respect for animals, and the drive to get better with every new challenge, they also hold some of my favorite childhood memories, many of which come from the time I spent at my hometown county fair.
The fair introduced me to lifelong friends, it was a place I fell in love with the girl from the other side of the county, and year after year I left a little piece of my heart at the fairgrounds as I said goodbye to my steer on the final day of the fair.
I hope to see you out at the fairgrounds next week, I know I will be one of the many Garfield County residents that will turn up for the festivities.
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