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Youngsters work long hours caring for cows at Field Days

 “Here in the 4-H barn we have long days and short nights,” explains Nathan Fefee, 17, who’s part of the Shelburne Explorers 4-H club. “We get up around five, head out to the barn. We get here and we start cleaning the stall out, all the manure. We start having some members take out their heifers and bring them down to the wash rack and get them cleaned up and washed. When we get the beds all cleaned out, we lay fresh sawdust down for them to lay on, and we put out fresh hay for them to eat. We bring them back in after they’re all washed and let them come in and relax and dry off.”
The next eight or so hours of every day are dedicated to showing cows in the ring and taking care of them in the 4-H Dairy Barn. But at night the youngsters can grab a bit of fun out on the fairgrounds.
“I like to go watch the tractor pulls and the demo derby,” says Nathan, a Mt. Abe student who has already lined up a scholarship to study diesel mechanics at the University of Northwestern Ohio. “Last night it was pretty good. There was one car almost caught on fire and a couple of cars flipped.”
Like other members of the Shelburne club, Nathan shows a cow from the Shelburne Farms herd of brown Swiss. He’s shown at Field Days for the past 6 or 7 years. This year he’s showing a cow they’ve nicknamed “Plainfield,” after the Vermont town. Her official name is Shirley Twin. With the brown Swiss’s characteristic big brown eyes and long eyelashes, the club has had comments all day on how pretty their nine animals are.
For Nathan, Field Days is “a lot of work, a lot of commitment,” but well worth it. “I just like to come out to the fair. It’s good bonding, the experience with friends. You meet a lot of new people, you get a lot more friends. It’s just a lot of fun to come out here and show cows.”
As Nathan forks some more hay to the Shelburne Explorers’ small herd, a steady crowd of onlookers strolls through the 4-H Dairy Barn. In one corner, a crowd of 4-H teenagers hang out on bales of hay, talking and laughing. A few young men, pitchforks and brooms in hand, are cleaning out their cows’ stalls. Cows and calves sit or stand quietly, chewing their cud. Outside a steady trickle of kids bring their cows to the water trough. In the tents pitched east of the barn, a few kids hang out, grabbing a brief moment of well-earned rest. Anyone familiar with the habits of contemporary teenagers will notice that in this crowd of busy young people one typical teen appendage is noticeably absent: the cell phone.
A few cows down from Nathan’s brown Swiss, Isabelle Gilley, an 11-year-old with the New Haven Dairy club, is cuddled up with her four-month-old Holstein, Peaches.
“I really like just what I’m doing right now,” says Isabelle, “hanging out and laying with Peaches and being able to show her. A couple of years ago I would just walk through here, and I never thought I was actually going to be one of the people who belonged here all the time. I like being able to just hang out with her.”
Two other young 4-H’ers are also flopped down nearby, using their calves as pillows. So far this week, Isabelle has competed in the Conformation, Open Show, and Fitting and Showmanship events. On this night, at 7 o’clock, she and Peaches will compete in the Costume event, dressed as Sully and Boo from “Monsters, Inc.” Peaches will be the lovable monster Sully, draped in a blue-green outfit spray-painted with purple spots with purple spray-painted foam ridges glued down the back. Sully’s horns are made out of wicker cornucopias, outfitted with bands of elastic, and Isabelle isn’t quite sure how well they’ll stay on. She made the entire outfit herself.
“She had lots and lots of ideas for costumes,” explains Isabelle’s mom, Kim Pandiani of Bristol, “and one of them was to be a football player. She kept looking for a jersey big enough to fit a cow. I told her that was pretty unreasonable, so she started looking for something else and came up with this idea. The stampede was going on (the Bristol Three Day Stampede to raise funds to combat cystic fibrosis), so we went down there and found everything we needed — five dollars! — and bought a can of spray paint, and she’s been working on it ever since.”
Pandiani and her two daughters (older daughter Madison is working all week at the pony rides) are camping at the fair all week in the family’s pop-up camper. “Five o’clock comes early,” she says, chuckling.
“The kids do all the work, so there’s a whole piece about responsibility,” says Pandiani, describing the kind of work ethic it takes to keep a barn full of over 100 animals fly-free and sweet smelling. “Everybody just comes, and the bigger kids really help the younger kids. The club is really inclusive. They love their animals.”
Pandiani looks out, gesturing not just at her own daughter but at the huge barn bustling with contented kids and cows and interested onlookers: “I mean, really, what would you rather have your kid doing — anything else in the universe that I could think of right now? No. It’s beautiful. I love it.”

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