Field Days delights with racing pigs, Jersey calves and more
By KATHRYN FLAGG
Editor’s note: The 60th edition of the Addison County Fair and Field Days last week offered, as ever, a smorgasbord of sights, sounds, smells and sensations. With so many events, demonstrations, fried treats and heated competitions to take in, we picked just a few favorites for our readers to savor. Here’s a sampling of what we saw.
The ribbon above April’s stall proudly declares this four-month-old Jersey calf a “novice champion.” She and her handler, Ethan Sausville, 8, of Addison, snagged top honors at the Thursday morning 4-H competition in handling and showmanship. But for the youngest of the Weybridge Willing Workers (WWW), the real marvels in the 4-H Dairy Barn are not the ribbons, but the cows themselves.
Sausville, Matthew Ouellette and Addy Parsons of Weybridge, all 8, crowd around a few of the calves the club is showing this year at the fair. Two little Jerseys, April and Lila, are munching away happily on their grain, perfectly content to let their handlers stroke their backs and necks.
The calves seem pretty happy to be shown, the kids explained — though “sometimes April gets spooked,” Sausville says. She straightens up once her show halter is on, Parsons chimes in.
It’s not easy, they explain — though the calves are sweet-tempered, they can be stubborn.
“You’ve got to really work with them,” Sausville says.
And occasionally, accidents can happen.
“Last year, when I was a PeeWee, I got kicked in the stomach by a really big cow,” Ouellette confides, not without a note of pride. The children confer on the size of the “really big cow” before ultimately deciding she was somewhere along the lines of Cinnamon’s height, gesturing to a massive Jersey lolling in the sawdust a few stalls down from the calves.
These children have worked with these animals since this past spring, notes Audra Ouellette, Matthew’s mother and the WWW leader — which explains their clear affection for the animals. The club keeps the cows in a separate barn at Audra Ouellette’s parents’ farm in Weybridge, and the WWW families are responsible for caring for the animals. They keep a schedule, and take turns with farm chores.
“It’s a very full experience,” she says.
For the length of the fair, these kids — and the other members and families in the WWW club — gather every day to muck out the stalls, put down fresh sawdust and bathe their cows.
Sausville explains how the calves’ hair has been shaved, with the fine hair along their spines trimmed with “tiny scissors” into what he terms a “Mohawk.” Ouellette, who will show the diminutive, doe-eyed Lila during a later competition, points out the horns atop her docile, boney head.
And when they’re not showing their little calves, these kids — who will certainly be back next year, they announce — are content to keep their calves company in the bustling barn. And with their winning, brown-eyed gaze, it is easy to see why these calves make such charming cohorts.
“I just think they’re really beautiful,” says Parsons, when asked what she likes best about the Jerseys, though she offers a quick disclaimer: “But my dad says that Holsteins are better.”
Rosie’s pigs race again
Near the 4-H Dairy Barn, a mock-up of a smaller red barn — this one a façade slapped onto a compact little trailer — advertises a show from Rosie’s Racing Pigs. A tiny track has been staked out in front of the trailer, and even before the five o’clock show, families and their small children are shifting on their feet out around the track to take in the spectacle.
Roger Defoce, 73, appears a few minutes late for the show, wearing overalls and a plaid shirt. He’s a showman through and through — peddling hand puppets before the main attraction and announcing his pigs by name, one by one.
By Defoce’s telling, the racing pig venture is just the latest development in a career spent entertaining. He comes from a long line of circus performers, he says, and spent decades traveling as a trapeze performer. The Massachusetts native’s compact body lends some credence to that claim. He was a stunt double for Tony Curtis in the 1956 film “Trapeze,” Defoce boasts — the film credits the late aerial artist Fay Alexander with that part — and claims to have made appearances on the “Ed Sullivan Show” and “Hollywood Palace.”
The pigs are extraordinarily difficult to train, Defoce explains, though “Rosie” follows him like a puppy. (That feat, he said, is all in the treats — the “cookies” he drops for her after each trick in the center ring of his act.) She, like all of the pigs in his act, is seven weeks old. The pigs are good for racing until they reach about 150 pounds, Defoce says.
“You see a big pig racing, it’s not the same,” he says. “It’s altogether different. It’s like a big monkey and a small monkey.”
In addition to the main attraction, the race, Defoce leads the star of his show, Rosie, through a few simple tricks. But the act itself — Rosie pushing a basketball with her snout, Rosie racing over a little slide, Rosie hammering her head into a child’s keyboard to “play the piano” — lacks the appeal of the race, which is delightful enough for even the most impatient adults in the crowd.
Before he begins the race, Defoce explains that he’ll select a representative for each of the pigs — and whoever’s pig wins, he says, will earn a prize.
“You’re too big,” he announces, when an adolescent boy puts his hand into the air. Instead, he settles on a little girl in pink.
“You have pig number one,” he exclaims, “and her name is… Tammy Faye Bacon!”
The little girl he’s chosen consults with her friend. They’re hovering near the colorful plastic divider — a string of little triangular flags — separating the crowd from the racetrack. Before Defoce has even chosen the rest of his contestants, the two girls are jumping up and down, shouting “Tammy Faye! Tammy Faye” in unison.
“Choose the pig you like and cheer for him,” Defoce tells the crowd as he straps numbered jerseys onto each of the animals. He shakes his bell, demands a cheer from the audience — and then the pigs are off, scuttling once around the tiny track.
Tammy Faye is by far the smallest of the pigs — though, at seven weeks old, they’re all undeniably adorable. She gets a slow start, but the tenacious runt darts out in front of her competitors, and when the squealing, oinking herd rounds the final bend she’s in the lead.
Tammy Faye’s designated representative shrieks with delight. Defoce calls her over to the trailer, and she ducks under the flag and scampers through the mud.
“You’re the winner of Rosie’s Racing Pigs,” Defoce announces solemnly, draping a medal around the girl’s neck. He places a certificate for a free pony ride in her hand, and then she’s off — as speedy as Tammy Faye — to show her family her prize.
Ice cream provides cold comfort
Next door, contestants for the ice cream eating contest — a competition of speed and not quantity — are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their chocolate ice cream. Finally, with a cooler on hand from the Future Farmers of America booth next door, the races are underway.
In one of the early matches, Joey Hynson, 16, and Brady Winslow, 14, of Cornwall, pair up to give the game a go. Winslow is blindfolded and seated at a folding table, where he can’t help but blindly smile and chuckle about the competition ahead.
Organizers scoop up the chocolate ice cream — one scoop per pair — and dole out the paper cups and wooden tongue depressors. The gangly Hynson, cup and tongue depressor in hand, readies himself by a bale of hay. (Next to him, another runner gets ready.) At the go-ahead, he flings himself around the bale twice, and then launches up onto the low stage where he leans across the table to spoon the ice cream into Winslow’s mouth.
It’s fairly easy going, until a bite drops from Winslow’s mouth straight into his hand. The 14-year-old shoves the ice cream into his mouth and keeps going. With a time of 40.22 seconds, the Cornwall teens finish well ahead of their competition.
“He had a pretty amazing catch, considering he was blindfolded,” Hynson says later.
Later stand-out competitors include Matthew Giles, 11, of New Haven, and his longtime friend Aine Redington, 10, who comes from Massachusetts every year with her family to see Field Days. Redington us cool as a cucumber in her seat on the stage.
“No chewing.” It’s easier than it looks, she claims — and the ice cream was cold, but good.
And the competition includes a few older ice cream enthusiasts too. With the most spectacular time of the night — a blazing 22.81 seconds — George Parker of Monkton and longtime friend Bill Schoonmaker of Vergennes take the top spot in the adult category.
“He’s been practicing all week for this,” Schoonmaker jokes, gesturing to Parker.
But as the competition wears on, Hynson and Winslow are busy eyeing their watches, anxious to make it to the next item on the day’s agenda: the Guitar Hero competition, the event coincidentally next up in this reporter’s to-do list.
“So you’ll be there when we win that, too?” Hynson asks.
Guitar Heroes rock the crowd
And indeed, by the time the organizer of the ice cream eating contest announces that Hynson and Winslow have won their age bracket, the two teenagers are nowhere to be found.
Until, that is, one follows the music to the show tent, where a projection screen broadcasts the action in the first-ever Guitar Hero competition to a full house crowd in the noisy tent.
Competitors in varying difficulty brackets duel it out, head to head, in single elimination matches. Winslow is paired against Austin Wyrocki in an early “expert level” match — a stroke of bad luck for Winslow as Wyrocki strums and jams, eyes intent on the screen, to a first-place finish.
A few minutes later, Matthew Mullen bops his head in time with a Guns n Roses song. The tent is packed, both with around 65 Guitar Hero aficionados and their fans.
In the end, it’s Wyrocki who claims the grand prize after more than five hours of blaring music, flying fingers and good-natured competition. His prowess at the game wins him a Nintendo DS with a Guitar Hero bundle — and the admiration of the crowd.
Mud pools in parking lot
The Guitar Hero battle continues well into the night — but by seven o’clock, most Field Days fans are flocking toward the demolition derby stadium. And the day concludes for all fairgoers in the parking lot — a field that, following weeks of heavy rain, has turned to thick mud.
This reporter is happy to put her all-wheel drive to work, which — excluding a few moments of frantically spinning tires — ultimately does the trick.
The trip home isn’t so effortless for everyone. One fairgoer appears from between a row of mud-splattered vehicles, squelching through the muck as she eyes the parking lot.
“Have you seen the guy with the tractor?” she asks.