Certainly the Chaves County youth fairs are about animals, large and small, as well as crafts, art work, horticulture and vocational skill sets, but the young participants say the fairs are also about developing as people and meeting up with old friends and new acquaintances.
“It teaches us responsibility, and it is a great way to get out here and make friends. I just have a great time every time we come out here,” said Halle Munson, a Goddard High School sophomore who has been showing steers and lambs since fourth grade.
Caden Brink summed up his fair and animal-raising experiences a bit more colloquially.
“You get to be with animals. Who doesn’t love animals? You might end up with a little fur on your nose at the end of the day and poop on your hands, but you can still have fun,” said the Dexter Elementary School student and member of the Rustic Arrows 4-H Club.
The annual Chaves County 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) Fair officially starts Sunday morning when animals arrive at the Eastern New Mexico Fairgrounds at 2500 S.E. Main St., but some of the kids are involved a couple of days earlier.
The indoor exhibits and projects will set up in exhibit halls on Friday morning, and the annual horse show at the Bob Crosby Arena will occur 5 p.m. Saturday.
The youth fair has been held in Chaves County for 37 years and typically involves more than 200 kids, ages 5 to 18. It is free and open to the public on all days.
Fair Board Vice President Mark Steen, also a leader of the Diamond H 4-H Club, said that the volunteer organizers expect more than 500 exhibits in the educational building and probably about 300 livestock and animal entries.
One highlight of the week is expected to be the 7 p.m. Aug. 2 junior livestock show. Each year, that brings in about $300,000 for the sellers, who typically save the money for college or use it for feed and supplies for the other animals they raise. Youth also can earn cash prizes for their entries.
Munson comes from a cattle ranching family, and her father used to show steers in youth fairs.
“My brother shows. It is kind of a like a family thing. My cousins do it, too,” she said.
Munson, who belongs to Valley Rascals 4-H and the Goddard FFA, said she plans to pursue a medical career, but she added that all she is learning is invaluable.
“This is teaching me leadership skills, responsibility, people skills, so I can work with people,” she said. “Agriculture does so much that I feel like a lot of people should be involved in it because it is teaching us so much for the real world.”
Fellow Valley Rascal and Goddard FFA member Maycie Hennington shows goats, following in the footsteps of her little brother, who raised pigs. That got most of family involved, which tends to be a typical experience of the fair youth.
“We are all out there, working hard as a family, so it is really good for that,” Hennington said. “And it is really good to start a college fund and put aside money for the future,”
The youth said they can get very attached to the animals they have spent years raising and can sometimes feel a sense of loss when they sell them. But that’s not always the case.
“This year I had a tough run with my stubborn goat,” said Hennington, “so I don’t know that there is going to be any hard feelings when he gets on the truck.”
She plans a career in criminal justice, but said, “I think it is good to have agricultural roots. It definitely gives you something to go off of, no matter what field you go into.”
They both add that they are involved in sports and other school activities and feel that their 4-H and FFA involvement adds to whatever organizations they join or people they meet.
The Brinks kids take the family aspect of the fair up a notch.
All three Dexter youth — Hanah and Haylee, 17, and Caden, 10 — raise and show rabbits and chickens.
The twins have been participating for nine years, while their brother is involved for his third year.
They said that involvement teaches them responsibility, a good work ethic and how to serve as role models to younger people.
They’ve all won ribbons and the twins have placed as best in their category for their chickens.
They’ve built chicken coops, set up a barn for cages and dedicate about two hours a day to their animals, all while working jobs and going to school.
“It is one of my last years, so I just want to spend it wisely and make the best of it,” said Haylee.
Caden said he plans to stay involved for many more years, and the twins said they probably will continue to return as volunteer leaders in future years.
That’s one of the best aspects about 4-H and FFA, said Steen, that youth often build lifelong friendships and will mentor each other.
“They are getting so much out of it. They are gaining some confidence in themselves. It helps with their self-esteem,” he said. “As they get older, they see that the community comes out to help them and what it takes to put this fair on. And a lot of times after they graduate high school and go on to college, they still come back and give their time to help the next group of kids. It is always heart-warming to see that.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at email@example.com.