Field Days is here! Kids, animals, food and fun

NEW HAVEN — For Alexis Ouellette of Weybridge, the Addison County Fair and Field Days means more than maple donuts and the Ferris wheel.
Ouellette, along with throngs of children and teens from age three to 18, participates in the 4-H Dairy Cattle competitions that form an integral part of the agricultural fair experience.
This summer Ouellette had a particularly successful series of showings leading up to Field Days culminating with her winter yearling Holstein, Twirley, winning First in Class during Wednesday’s showings, and her four-year-old Jersey, Luna, winning the same title for another class.
And while Ouellette was pleased to win First in Class, she was thrilled when Luna later won Reserved Senior Champion, and was named Grand Champion for the Jersey breed.
“It feels great,” she said. “I honestly wasn’t expecting it because (Luna) is a pretty mature cow.”
The 66th annual fair opened Tuesday morning with the usual mix of excitement and nervous anticipation from the organizers, vendors and youngsters like Ouellette doing last-minute preparations before showing their animals. The fair runs through Saturday evening, when there will be fireworks at dusk and the midway will close around 11 p.m.
One of the first change fairgoers will notice this year is the introduction of wristbands (or bracelets) that are being issued at the gates instead of hand stamps. Everyone will have a bracelet put on their wrist after paying the gate admission or surrendering their complimentary or purchased pass.
In addition, six hay structures have been created and are located alongside the fence next to the ticket booths. The main admission gate will now be off the middle of the main parking lot, across from the Lucien D. Paquette Exhibit Building. The upper gate by the midway rides is closed this year.
Other than those changes, the first two days of Field Days this week offered many of the same general themes as in past years — lots of kids wearing summer camp T-shirts; the noise of the tractor pulls emanating from the tractor pad; arts and crafts filling the Frances Monroe Home and Garden barn; horses, sheep and pigs; a mix of sun and rain; and loads of good fair food.
And, of course, there are barns full of dairy cows carefully raised by local youngsters, who primp and preen them before taking them for a walk through the judging area.
There are two classes of dairy cattle competitions: the conformation class, and the showmanship class. While the conformation class focuses on the visual presentation of a cow or heifer, the showmanship class judges how the kids present their animals, as well as the cows’ visual appearance and behavior.
Ouellette began showing smaller animals when she was three years old, and now as a 17-year-old rising senior at Middlebury Union High School, she has moved on to showing her own heifers and cows in the 4-H Dairy Cattle competitions.
 Ouellette is certainly dedicated; during this year’s Field Days she camped on the fairgrounds and was up early to groom both cows. She even milked Luna at midnight so that the cow’s udders would have 14 hours’ worth of milk in them, which can affect the udders’ appearance and mean the difference between first and second place.
“I’m running on six hours of sleep, but it’s OK,” she said with a laugh.
During the competitions, Ouellette said, she often compares her cows to others’, and is aware of the smallest differences between each competitor.
“There was one other (cow) competing,” Ouellette said, “and I was like, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to beat me,’ but they didn’t. I often find the faults in (my cows) while other people are like, ‘Oh, they’re beautiful!’ But they are beautiful. No doubt about that.”

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