MISSOULA — The carnival rides are a blast and the food is to die for, but if talking about the western Montana Fair, you can’t forget to mention the animals.
For years, the livestock facet of the fair has served as a highlight for fairgoers and exhibitors alike.
This year is no exception as almost 250 livestock showmen have and will spend their time at the 2021 fair competing with their animals.
From outside the barn, the animals may seem cute, and the exhibitors carefree, but according to those on the inside of the barn, fair week is exhausting.
“Every day we’re out there working with them and trying to halter break them,” explained exhibitor Brooklen Kopp.
Echoing Kopp, “it's a lot of work,” said Laynie Jensen, followed by “It’s not as easy as I thought it would be,” said Miley Weston.
In short, raising livestock isn’t a walk in the pasture, especially in the months leading up to the fair.
“It really takes a lot of work to get them used to blow-drying and fitting them and everything that goes into a show,” said Kopp.
“Working with show halters, and brushing them off and really getting them comfortable around us and other people.”
Come fair week, these animal whisperers still don’t get a break.
Winding down after showing her steer, exhibitor Hazel Sawfer walked MTN News through the pre-show process.
“So we washed our cows, then we went and we fit them, and then we just waited and we watched other people show, and that kind of gives you an idea of what the judge is looking for and how the judge lays out the arena.”
While most fairgoers enjoy a lift on the Ferris Wheel, livestock exhibitors are competing with their animals in 90° weather. The responsibility doesn’t stop there.
“We have barn duties like sweeping the hallways and we have to make sure our pens are clean,” said Weston.
Ensuring the fairgoer experience is top-notch, exhibitors are ready to share animal facts with passersby and sweep the walkways for a smoother stroller ride.
“They'll have different times assigned to different kids. We try to have everything fed and cleaned and the aisles swept by 9 a.m.,” said extension agent Campbell Barrett.
The life of a livestock exhibitor may be one of the only lifestyles that warrant public nap-taking, but it’s also one of great rewards.
“The animals in 4H are the tools that we use to teach life skills. So, it's good for the kids to have an opportunity to show off their animals to more people." - Campbell Barrett
Between chores and labor, these kids find ways to entertain -- whether it be feeding their pigs vanilla wafers or an impromptu water gunfight.
At the end of the day, it’s all about balance.
“My favorite part is definitely raising them, and I have so much fun doing it,” said Jensen, stealing a glance at her pig, Ginger.
The livestock portion of the fair will come to an end at the livestock auction this Saturday at 8 a.m.
You can learn more about participating in the auction here.