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Best in show: Livestock play a big part in county fair

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Jason Neal fluffed the hair on the hind legs of a docile, six-month-old Charolais heifer Monday, spraying tail adhesive -- "It's sort of like a super, super strong hairspray," he said -- to set the hair in place.

"What we're doing right here is we're fitting the legs and by fitting the legs it sort of squares the legs up and brings their hair out," Neal said. "You want their body to look like a square."

The Neals' Charolais heifer, which Jason's sister, 13-year-old Samantha, planned to show, was one of about 600 head of cattle that will come through the barn at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds over the course of this year's fair, some new to the show ring and others quite accustomed to the show atmosphere.

"This is her first show, so she's looking around (a little)," Jason Neal said of the yet-unnamed heifer, "but other than that she's doing fine."

While much of the livestock show ring experience is geared toward youth who present the animals for judging, the Gwinnett County Fair's open class allows showmen of any age to take to the ring.

Across the barn from where Neal groomed his family's heifer, Buford resident Rodney Miller waited with his cattle for Monday's night's open class show.

"This is one of maybe the only fairs left in Georgia that have an open class," he said.

Miller and his daughter, 21-year-old Mallory Miller, planned to show their two female cows, Blackie and Georgia, along with their respective calves, 5-week-old Buddy and 3-week-old Max.

"It's kind of a unique way to show," Rodney Miller said. "The judge looks at the cow and the calf and judges them as a team."

Miller said the calves are typically a big hit at the fair.

"Everybody loves to come and pet the little calves," Miller said. "And that's as much a part of it as anything else."

While cattle is the largest group of animals shown at the annual fair, the number of cattle entries has decreased slightly due to the economy and the number of goats and hogs has gone up simply due to the cost associated with feeding and caring for the animals.

"You take a parent that has three kids in school and wants a project and they buy a show calf and feed it out, the moms and dads can buy a kid a meat goat or a hog and maybe feed out three of them or four for what a calf would cost in feed out," said Bill Atkinson, one of three members of the fair's livestock committee who showed his first animal at the Gwinnett County Fair in 1950.

While the number of cattle entries for this year's fair may have decreased, traffic in and out of the barn has increased.

"We've probably seen more people come through the barn this year than we have in quite a while," Atkinson said. "It's unbelievable how many people are coming through."

Atkinson said many people are interested in learning more about farm animals, some perhaps never having seen a cow in person.

"The other night the aisles were so full that you couldn't even get the cattle out to the tie-outs at 8:30," he said. "We had to wait, some of them, till 10 o'clock to get their cows outside the barn."

Livestock shows will continue daily throughout the course of the fair, which ends Sunday. For more information, call 770-963-6522 or visit www.gwinnettcountyfair.com.