Down in the Shipley Building at the Carroll County Agriculture Center, Marissa Roberts, 17, showed her Guernsey dairy cow.
Roberts walked her cow around the ring as a judge looked at it and spoke about its good qualities, as well as what should be changed.
For the Francis Scott Key High School senior from Taneytown, the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair is a yearly staple. She’s been involved for nine years, and showing cows for eight, she said.
“My grandparents did it and my mom did it, so it’s in the family. I really like the tradition behind it,” Roberts said.
Over the years, she’s learned a lot. It’s taught her responsibility, organization skills and about bookkeeping, she said.
But while many who think of the 4-H & FFA Fair think of the animals in a ring, the fair offers chances for participants to show their behind-the-scenes knowledge, too.
Up the hill from the Shipley Arena, stations were set up throughout the Extension Office with different tasks — almost like a quiz.
The 4-H’ers made their way through three portions per section, testing their knowledge on sheep, swine and beef. For the younger kids, part of the test included identifying equipment, from buckets to harness to combs.
For the older members, portions of the event included identifying the best hay or sheep fleece.
But for all who participated in Monday’s Livestock Skill-a-Thon, the event was a chance to test, and grow, their knowledge.
“There’s three big aspects to showing livestock,” Beth Hester, superintendent of the Livestock Skill-a-Thon, said.
In the barns, there’s fitting and showing. But the third aspect is learning what’s behind the industry, and what standards are, she said.
“The Skill-a-Thon encourages the kids to understand the standards of meat production, of grains, of hays, of medicines, of the minerals that the animals have to eat in order to have a good animal in the show ring,” she said.
This is more of the behind-the-scenes world, she added.
Hester introduced this portion of the 4-H & FFA Fair at least 20 years ago, she said. Each year, stations change. Carroll’s version of the Skill-a-Thon differs from that of regional or state events, she said.
Often, in other versions of the event, 4-H’ers only know how they score, but not what answers they get wrong, and more importantly, the right information, she said. In Carroll, they do things differently.
“When they finish the station, unlike any other test that they’ve taken, they find the answers out right away. We want them to learn,” Hester said, later adding, “They’re going to learn something before they walk out of that room.”
For 8-year-old Piper Gawel, the event was a chance for just that. Monday was her first time doing the Skill-a-Thon, and she said she learned a lot, though some of the questions were challenging.
“It’s a little tricky,” she said.
For those who spent years in 4-H, the event is one that helped them keep testing their knowledge and growing their information base as years went on.
Kayla Kowall, 19, of Westminster, just aged out of 4-H after five years, she said. Now, she’s a club leader.
“I love 4-H because I learned a lot through it,” she said. “I was able to explore a lot of different species that I was interested in.”
The Skill-a-Thon was a chance each year to boost her industry information, especially in the sheep area, she said. Kowall showed swine and beef, so said she had some knowledge of those animals heading in.
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“Showing beef and swine I knew a little more about those,” she said, “but sheep I knew nothing about. So every year I learned something about the sheep.”