Farm families show off skills at Montgomery County Fair

Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

One of the first things visitors to the Montgomery County Fairgrounds notice is best described by an astute young lad, who exclaimed, "I smell animals!"

"You're going to smell a lot of animals today," his mother told him.

Whether it's cattle, goats, or racing pigs, the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair is a once-a-year opportunity for D.C. area residents to get a close look at, and smell, farm animals. For the residents that raise and care for those creatures, it's an opportunity to show off their skills on their home turf.

Children in 4-H, a youth development program with a large agricultural component, raise and show a variety of animals including cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens and rabbits. There is also a 4-H horse show.

Kelsey Stabler, 20, of Pleasant Valley Farms in Laytonsville, Md., had her roughly 1,200 pound steer judged and sold Saturday night after working with the animal since September 2011.

Each steer is judged based on the quality of meat they may provide, their appearance and how well the contestant handles them. They are then sold for about $3.50 a pound. That at least covers the nearly $2,000 it took just to feed Stabler's steer in the last 12 months.

It's a grueling experience for someone who still goes to school regularly -- beyond their classes, Stabler and her sister Shelby, 17, spend three to four hours each day feeding, bathing and training the cattle.

"It's a lot more work than just feeding a dog," she said.

Nearly a year of work culminates at the county fair, something the entire family looks forward to each year, said Pam Velisek, the Stabler's aunt. The family travels to fairs and competitions nationwide, but there's nothing like being at home.

"It's ours," Stabler said. "We get to see a lot of people we know come through here."

For others, Montgomery County is worth a long trip -- Newton, N.C. resident Brent Cook made his fourth appearance at the fair with his wife, Stephanie. A former 4-H member, Cook wowed audiences with farm animal races, ducks and goats included.

But the main attraction is the racing pigs, which zip around the mesh track faster than any other animal.

"You never know what's going to happen," Cook said. "Sometimes they'll fly around the track, sometimes they'll walk."

Even if they don't appreciate the smell, the dozens of children in the audience seemed thrilled by the free T-shirts, the excitement of the pre-race theater, and the unique opportunity to watch a swine named Piggy Gordon run full speed around the track.

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