Fair week for the Umatilla County Fair kicked off, like everything else in 2020, in an unprecedented way at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 11.
There were no corn dogs or rides, no concerts or jugglers. But there were still animals.
Youths (or their parents) showed up early Tuesday morning with their lambs, saying goodbye for the week before the animal they spent the summer raising was weighed, photographed and sent off to await the Youth Livestock Auction at the end of the week. Other animals will get their turn throughout the week.
Blake Betz, an 18-year-old FFA student who has shown animals at the fair every year since he was first old enough, said he would miss the usual experiences of fair week, even though he still got the experience of raising his steer, Lil’ Smoky.
“In years previous I’ve looked forward to seeing friends from other towns that I don’t usually get to see, and get a week off and have fun hanging out,” he said.
Kendall Cooper, 17, an FFA student from Stanfield, said this was her fifth year raising a market hog for the fair. She said her hog, a Yorkshire-Hampshire cross named Belle, was looking good and should make weight.
She said when the FFA students got their animals in March, school had just shut down and so they had an inkling that if they went through with raising an animal to show, fair week probably wouldn’t look exactly the same as they were used to.
Cooper said normally during the week, particularly during the Youth Livestock Auction, she is making connections with people and talking her animal up to potential auction buyers — something she’ll miss doing this year.
But even with just a photo to show bidders, she said she had faith that the community would come through for its youth as usual. Last year, the auction raised more than $600,000 total for participating students, who often use the money for everything from college savings to buying their own head of cattle.
“It’s such a vital thing that the community is not just going to forget about it,” she said.
Emily Lillegard, 16, of Stanfield, said on Monday, Aug. 10, that dropping her lamb Bandit off was probably going to be a little harder than saying goodbye during the auction, because she wouldn’t have spent all week with Bandit.
She said raising a lamb is still rewarding, hard work, however, even if she didn’t get to do the usual showmanship activities at the fair.
The absence of most of the usual fair activities was also hard for the adults who usually participate. Gay and Alice Newman were set to be the fair parade’s grand marshals this year, after more than four decades of participation in the fair. Between the two of them, the “dynamic duo” have served on various fair committees, as leaders of 4-H and FFA, on the fair board, as a fair court chaperone and as volunteers in nearly every capacity possible at the fair.
Gay Newman said they would miss being able to have their usual level of participation, but they were still helping weigh animals on Tuesday morning, Aug. 11.
He said the fair has always been his family’s “big thing” and it was tough not being able to enjoy all the normal trappings of fair week, even if they understood why.
“I miss it,” he said. “You don’t get to talk to the kids and listen to their stories and see the excitement on their faces.”
Still, he said, the community has always been supportive of the fair and he has faith that they will be back in strong form next year.
“We’ll get through this,” he said.
Anna Browne, 4-H coordinator with the Oregon State University extension center in Hermiston, said 4-H participants were uploading homemade showmanship videos for judges to watch, and the community can watch confirmation of the animals each day through a video feed Hermiston School District has created on its YouTube Channel at youtube.com/c/HSDCommunications.
A link to the video, as well as livestock scores, photos, winners and more, are being posted on the Umatilla County Fair Youth Livestock Auction page.
4-H youths have also been participating online by holding live competitions over Zoom for categories, such as cooking and public speech.
“It’s been a bit of a learning process,” Browne said. “Some things we’ve done have been fun, just different. I appreciate the kids who have been willing to take the risk with the video format.”