Sandy Larson, of Larson Acres dairy farm in Evansville, is one of the coordinators. She said the show has been going on for 20 years or more.
The goal is to walk in a circle around the judges while displaying the animal’s “dairyness,” based on conformation, balance and the way the calf moves. With 75 contestants, the show is divided into groups by age of the youth contestants.
“Most of these kids are brothers or sisters of 4-H kids who are too young to be in 4-H themselves,” Larson said. “They get a lot of support from the older kids and their parents.”
Kids may join Cloverbuds, a 4-H project designed for children ages 5 through 8. The programs are developmentally appropriate, activity-focused and built on cooperative learning. The focus is on developing a specific skill or concept rather than focusing on a specific subject area. So, while most of Little Britches participants have a strong connection to the dairy industry, others borrow a calf from a friend.
The animals being led into the ring are calves, but even newborns weigh upward of 70 pounds and most of these are weaned, which means they are bigger and stronger. Handlers, both girls and boys, grip the lead rope and coax the calves into position.
Race Howlett, of Evansville 4-H Club, was 8 years old and in Cloverbuds when he showed a borrowed brown Jersey in last year’s Little Britches show.
Kristen and Chad Howlett have four children, all in 4-H, but this was the first time one of them was in the Little Britches contest.
“It’s a great experience for them,” his mother said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to learn about a project and then grow in that area.”
Because the Howletts live in town and can’t have farm animals on their property, they keep the animals their kids show at the fair in a borrowed barn outside of Evansville.
“They are learning what dedication and hard work means,” Kristen said. “We have to make an effort to go there to do chores every day at least twice a day.”
Race and his siblings -- Cain, 13, Asia, 16, and Layne, 13 -- will show swine, sheep, rabbits and show and meat birds.
“They look forward to it, the camaraderie they develop hanging out with their friends,” Kristen said.
Those friendships and a sense of community are carried through to a 4-Her’s later years, according to Otis Johnson, a judge at last year’s show. A member of the Evansville 4-H Club, he earned the honor of being one of two judges by winning in the dairy showmanship class.
“They show their own animals the day before, and the next day they work with the younger ones,” Larson said. “It’s a fun thing for them to do, but we don’t know till the day before who the judges will be.”
Johnson, who’s planning on studying business agriculture at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville this fall, has been involved with the Rock County dairy judging team for several years, so he felt comfortable working the ring.
“Some kids are more outgoing than others, but we have them lead their dairy calf around the ring and ask them a few questions -- ‘What’s your calf’s name? Birthdate? Breed?’”
Johnson said fun events like the Little Britches show can get youngsters involved in what might remain an important part of their lives.
Chad Howlett agreed.
“Livestock has been a big part of my life,” he said.
He wants his kids to experience some of the same things, and being involved in 4-H is a way to do that.
“They’re learning life skills and the value of hard work.”
For many youngsters such as Howlett’s son, Race, that learning begins with a showing in the Little Britches contest. Their immediate reward for participating is a coupon redeemable at the Rock County dairy trailer. Each participant also receives a new halter from Extra Mile Dairy Supply in Janesville.
Be sure to show your support for the youngsters in the Little Britches contest, which takes place at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, July 30, in the stock pavilion.
Working with livestock is a lifelong learning experience. Don’t believe it? Check out the Old-Timer Showmanship class after the Little Britches contest.
“It’s a real show with judges and serious competitors,” said Larson, who will be participating again.
“I haven’t won yet,” she added wistfully.
Rock County 4-H Fair
- When: July 25 through July 30
- Where: Rock County Fairgrounds, 1301 Craig Ave., Janesville
- Tickets: Children under age 7 are admitted free. Single-day tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 7 to 12. Season passes are $35 for adults and $15 for youth. Thursday, July 27, is Senior Citizens Day — tickets for age 62 and older, $5.
- Contact: Call 608-755-1470 or go online to RockCounty4hFair.com.