Fair livestock show participation is a limited window that closes for teens once they turn 19 years old. So a return to fair normalcy this year is the best news Talawanda High School student Austin Weekley has heard in more than a year of losing heart-felt traditions to the global pandemic.
“I’m am super-excited. The fair is the most hectic, fun and exciting event all wrapped into one week in the whole year,” said the senior, who has shown and sold prize-winning pigs in the fair’s youth livestock competition for each of the last 12 years.
Last year’s fair was a sad one, he said, with his participation restricted by coronavirus precautions to a single day of the fair week and only immediate family – no extended members – allowed to watch from the stands during the swine and other competitions.
It also depressed his wallet.
Like many teens from area rural communities, Weekley makes sizable prize money for his animals, which are bid on and bought by meat packing companies, local vendors and others. The funds often go to teen participants’ college funds or are channeled back into purchasing and raising next year’s livestock for show.
The 17-year-old estimates he has earned more than $5,000 from his winnings since his first fair entry at 5 years old.
Edgewood High School teacher Casey Wells is also a Butler County Fair board member and said of the truncated livestock shows last summer: “The money was not anywhere near where it usually is for the kids.”
In pre-pandemic times, a championship pig could earn its owner up to $2,000, and a steer could bring $5,000. Goats in recent years have been especially lucrative for the students raising them, said Wells.
But the fair livestock and other animal competitions are more important than prize money, he said.
“It’s a positive thing that kids can do that’s not sports and it’s a very involved project (raising animals) where they learn about hard work, responsibility and leadership while gaining confidence as they get out there an exhibit their project to a judge in front of a crowd,” said Wells, whose own children are fair participants.
“And it brings families together,” he said.
Edgewood school parent Libby Wolf knows that rings true. She said her freshman daughter, Lily, was thrilled to hear the fair will be back to its pre-coronavirus version.
“It is very important to her. This is kind of her thing and it provides her with a lot of great experiences and opportunities. She has goats and pigs she takes to the fair,” said Wolf.
“She was pretty bummed last year. We had a fair but it wasn’t quite the full fair experience.”
Lily said that “I’m super pumped for this year. The fair is a big part of my life. The fair is my favorite week out of the year. Last year I didn’t get to have a sale and that’s pretty important because that is how I save money for college and so that was a year I missed out on saving money for school.”
Ross High School sophomore Brad Allgeier has been parading show animals at the fair since he was 6 years old.
“I’m hoping this year the fair will be close to normal. I’m excited because the fair is important, not just for me but for younger kids too,” he said.