Home from the Hopkinton Fair

  • Ben, a Scottish Highlander working steer, greets a young fair visitor. —Courtesy of Carole Soule

For the Monitor
Friday, September 08, 2017

When I returned from the show ring with my oxen Monday night, the crew was already packing up our barn at the Hopkinton State Fair. I was exhausted, and the cattle were ready to go home, but we all had to wait until the posters, wheel barrow, show trunk, yokes and other stuff was jammed into the goose neck trailer. The barn had to be clean or we would face a $100 fine.

The cattle, tied to the outside of the trailer, waited patiently for us to finish so they could be loaded up for the trip home. It was dark when we pulled into the farm and I unloaded the animals by trailer lights (the barnyard lights stopped working a few months ago).

They go into a “quarantine pen,” where they will stay separated from the rest of the herd for at least 10 days. Even though all the cattle are inspected for diseases when they arrive at the fairgrounds, animals stabled together for four-and-a-half days can still get sick. In a new environment, livestock can be stressed and become ill even if they get the same feed and care they receive at home, and every year a few fair livestock need veterinary care. With animals stabled closely together, undetected diseases can spread and may not be obvious for days. So when we bring our livestock home from any fair, they stay separated from the rest of my herd until we are sure they are disease-free.

Stress works on people too. I slept pretty much non-stop for two days after the fair. I did have to wake up briefly to help my husband, Bruce, secure 15 piglets who were terrorizing the neighborhood while we were at the fair. The piglets figured out how to scoot under the electric wire gate handles and some even dove under the charged wire to pester the cattle pastured across the road and annoy our neighbors. The only secure place for these escape artists was our stock trailer, where they will stay until we reinforce the pig fencing.

The cattle did well in the show ring. Topper and Stash, my five-year-old Scottish Highland oxen team, had to drag a sled through an obstacle course in the log scoot class. Unfortunately, they came in last because we knocked over all of the cones – mostly because of my inexperience but also because the hitch chain was too long. In another class, the Yankee hitch (where four steers are hitched together), they followed all my commands and came in first in their class.

Of course, I’ll never be as professional as the 4-H working steer teamsters, the Ox Bows, who all weekend took most of the ribbons in the show ring and also helped me with my new team, Ben and Snuff. I learned a lot from those kids who are amazing and who know what they are doing. Maybe someday I’ll grow up to be a 4-Her. Do they have a 4-H club for those of us who are 60 and over?

(Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm in Loudon, where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at cas@milessmithfarm.com.)