Teenagers clad in white stood in a line, holding their small animals atop a table at the Kern County Fair Livestock Competition Round Robin on Wednesday afternoon. The animals attempted to escape, but were subdued by deft hands.
A judge sat across from them, observing and asking questions in the quiet showroom.
Squealing toddlers ran outside, their eyes brightening as cows, goats and other animals milled about in an open barn.
The livestock showing allows many to get involved in the agricultural business from a young age, said Betsy Hunter-Binns, a member of the Dairy Team that oversees that exhibit. She volunteers at the fair to introduce the participants to the Dairy Trade Association, her employer.
“It gives you a whole respect for the whole cycle of life — all creatures great and small,” Hunter-Binns said.
Competitors in the round robin won first place in previous competitions. These programs teach the children responsibility, Hunter-Binns said. About 788 exhibitors entered the show, leading to 3,500 entries. This number is half the regular participants of previous years, said Dawn Stornetta, the livestock supervisor.
Nick Zunino, 12, won grand champion in the showmanship category with his cow, Milo. This was the first time he won this category. He practiced every day for two hours and loves making his dad proud.
His brother Luke Zunino, a freshman at Garces Memorial High School, also won the prize for grand champion in the showmanship category with his cow Lucy. He credits his victory to practicing for hours during the weekdays and exerting even more effort on weekends. He started to work in early June to forge that winning connection.
“When you work with them, you see how they grow and their progress,” Luke said. “When you’re working with them and you’re walking with them, you can sense that bond.”
Furthermore, he thanks his family for providing the support to get into the business.
“When you work that hard at something and you get rewarded — you’re happy,” Luke said. “It all paid off.”
Luke dreams of attending Texas A&M and studying agricultural business or dairy science. The fair allows him to practice the necessary skills needed to excel in that field. Combined with his regular education, he feels like he is ahead of the game.
“This is almost like a head start for me,” the older brother said. “It’s what I love to do.”
You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @idesai98 on Twitter.