WEST ALLIS — There may be no better place to gorge than at the Wisconsin State Fair.
For 11 days, the corner of South 84th Street and West Greenfield Avenue transforms into a menagerie for eaters.
Of course, there are the Original Cream Puffs cranked out by the Wisconsin Bakers Association, ice cream sundaes served up by the Washington County FFA and nearly 100 food items on a stick, including fish, bacon, ice cream, pizza, and even macaroni and cheese.
And while all these good eats make for a filling fair (I had the ribeye sandwich from the Wisconsin Cattleman’s Association), the event wouldn’t be a fair without the animals — live ones.
Cows, pigs, goats, horses, chickens, rabbits and turkeys are among the beasts and critters trucked in and shown off here as part of an annual summer ritual for hundreds of state youths. Some have already shown in their county or regional fairs, while others from places like Dodge, Sheboygan, Vernon and Wood counties precede their local fairs with a trek to western Milwaukee County.
“We like to show the public we have a passion for what we do,” said Cassi Miller, 20, a member of the Junior Holstein Association of Wood County and an incoming junior at UW-Platteville. “It’s a way to promote the dairy industry.”
Miller, who lives on her family’s 200-acre dairy farm near Vesper, just north of Wisconsin Rapids, has shown animals for the past nine years. This year, her final year, she brought a fall yearling Holstein named Ro-Lex Sanchez Peppermint born on Oct. 10, 2012. Miller’s mother, Susan Miller, was also on hand helping groom the cow and making sure Ro-Lex got her share of shredded sugar beats.
“This is something that stays with them their whole life,” Susan Miller said of children showing animals at the fair. “People have no clue of all the stuff it takes to get (the animals) ready. It starts way before we even get here.”
That includes working with the animal on an almost daily basis, leading it, training the cow to keep its head up, and trimming and washing the animal once a week.
David Peterscheim, 16, of Viroqua, showed off a young Holstein on Friday and in the process, got a fat lip. As he was waiting outside the coliseum, his cow reared her head, catching David in the face. Later, as he sat in the stands and watched his 14-year-old sister, Hope, lead her cow in the ring, David’s lower left lip showed a small cut and was swollen.
“It’s crazy. Some animals are so much easier,” David said. “It’s all part of it.”
That experience also includes getting animals, feed, bedding and people to the fair.
For the Peterscheims, members of the Vernon County Junior Holstein Club, 27 cows from the club were loaded onto a double-decker semi-trailer and hauled nearly 170 miles in a trip that took more than three hours. Pickup trucks filled with hay, straw, water and feed buckets, wheelbarrows, and pitchforks followed.
“It’s just a lot of supplies,” said David and Hope’s father, Ralph Peterscheim, who farms 700 acres and milks 80 head a day. “It’s a big job.”
And, just like back home, the work doesn’t end. Animals are tended to virtually around the clock. Teams of youths ensure that bedding is clean, the walkways clear and that the barn fans are spinning.
When it’s time to sleep, some nap next to their animals, but the Tommy G. Thompson Youth Center dormitory on the fairgrounds provides rooms at $90 per night. Each room has six bunk beds and can sleep 12 people. The setup allows youths from around the state to mingle and create friendships.
But most of the time is spent in the barns, roaming the fairgrounds and showing off the animals at what is considered the world’s largest junior livestock show.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” David said, of showing at the State Fair. “If you want to do well, you have to put in a lot of time.”
Lizi Endres, 19, of Waunakee, took an overall second place with her winter yearling Holstein and a first in the bred and owned category. Her family farms 1,000 acres and has 350 Holsteins. She’s been showing animals since she was 5 years old and this marked her seventh time showing at the State Fair.
“It’s more competition from across the state,” Endres said, when asked how it stacks up against the Dane County Fair show. “I really love working with cattle and hanging out with my family and friends.”
For Austin Raymond, 15, the State Fair puts a wrap on summer.
The New Richmond High School freshman will begin football practice this week. He plays basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. Summer means work on the family farm and showing off his spring yearling Holstein that was born March 7, 2013.
This would have been his third State Fair appearance but Austin’s aunt got married last year at this time so he was unable to make the more than five-hour drive to West Allis.
“It’s kind of fun to hang out with friends and get better at showing,” Austin said, as he waited to lead his animal into the coliseum.
In the past, Austin has shown animals owned by his father, Jason, but he won an essay contest and received a calf as a prize. Austin has been working with the animal for months, and it marks his first time owning an animal.
“It opens up my future as a farmer,” Austin said. “Now that I have her, it’s different.”
Austin didn’t place. In fact, he finished near the bottom. But that wasn’t the point of this year’s trip, said his dad, who showed at the State Fair in the early 1990s.
“He probably could have brought a better animal,” Jason Raymond said, “but this one is his.”