In Sac County, cows are clean and so is a judge

SAC CITY – For participants in the Sac County Fair, there’s a huge gap between the short time they’re allowed to perform in the show ring with their animals – no matter what animal – and the amount of time it takes to prepare for a few minutes in front of a judge.

Levi Steinkamp, 10, of Wall Lake, a member of the Innovative Pioneers 4-H Club, is showing his bottle calf, Chewie, at this year’s fair.

The animal came by the name honestly.

“He’s always eating grass,” Steinkamp said.

To help give the bovine an edge, Steinkamp joined several other members of his club leading their bottle and bucket calves around the fairgrounds Thursday, through the show ring and then, eventually, back into the stall.

This helps the animals get used to their surroundings.

Steinkamp also works with Chewie at home.

“About five hours a week,” he said.

How he split that up has changed, apparently. It’s not always just weekdays; sometimes Chewie has to practice on Saturday.

“Sometimes that’s the day I do it,” he said.

Doug Vondrak, of Lake View, was spending a good chunk of the morning with an electric clipper and one of the family’s fair entries.

“I’m doing some final touches,” Vondrak said.

An animal that can easily weight over 1,000 pounds has a lot of surface area.

“I’ll spend five or six hours clipping on her before the fair,” Vondrak said.

The goal is to present cattle in the best possible way, he said, so not only do the bovines get a trim, they’re washed, blow-dried and their hooves are polished.

Reynold Loecker, of Yankton, S.D., sees a lot of chickens, ducks, geese and other fowl during the fair season in his role as a show judge.

“I do about 20 shows a year in a four-state area,” he said.

Loecker takes steps to protect himself from potential pecking – and other things – by wearing a white lab coat and cap in the ring.

“It’s mainly to keep yourself clean,” he said. “You can end up covered with things you don’t want to be covered with.”

The lab coat elicits a few questions.

“I had one young lady walk up to me and ask ‘are you a doctor?'” he said.

For Loecker, a retired school teacher, judging a show is much less about grading the birds than it’s about being able to teach the students and help them, he said.

Jamie Zimmerman, 15, of Sac City, a member of the Jacksons 4-H Club, was helping at the show. Her job was to attach the ribbons to cages.

She was enjoying the Poultry Show.

“I like seeing the different kinds of birds,” she said.

In addition to the shows, she likes being able to spend time with her friends.

One thing she won’t get to do is nap in the barn.

“No,” she said, “that won’t happen.”