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A Fair showing

Kids take stock, and find county fair has rewards and heartbreaks
by: Courtesy Photo, Some pig! Abby Corliss of the Forest Grove High School FFA program shows her market hog last weekend at the Washington County Fair. The annual event, held at the fairgrounds in Hillsboro, drew thousands of folks during its four-day run.

Gobbling down corndogs and getting nauseous while riding the Cliffhanger is usually the biggest risk faced by Washington County Fair visitors. Others, however, have more than a mere upset stomach to worry about; they have reputations and serious amounts of money on the line.

This year, nearly 600 children and teenagers from 4-H and FFA exhibited sheep, cows, pigs, rabbits, goats, chickens, as well as projects in sewing, landscaping, and other crafts. Many walked away with awards and nicely fattened wallets.

Barbara, a 263-pound mixed-breed hog, netted budding farmer Nick Vanaken, 12, a Grand Champion trophy in the Market Hall swine division. Aside from bragging rights, the Forest Grove youth got to be the first seller at a hog auction the next day. Considering that last year's hog prices topped $3 a pound, he was in line to make a killing.

'He's been lucky to win Grand Champion right from the get-go,' said Marv Vanaken, Nick's father, noting that his son had previously participated only in dairy competitions. 'We're real proud of him.'

Nick attributed his animal's success to a combination of genetics, quality pig feed and a healthy dose of personal space. Although Barbara gained more than 200 pounds since Nick bought her this spring, the judge found she had developed excellent muscle mass.

'We had a big pen for them, so they got a lot of exercise, so they weren't fat,' Nick said.

A few stalls away, Josh Marsh and Michael Pope of the Banks FFA were in a less cheerful mood. Neither of the teenagers' pigs had gained enough weight to qualify for the official competition or the auction, which they believe was the result of inadequate feed.

'We can't sell them at the auction, so we're going to sell them outright to the public,' said Pope, noting that this type of sale usually commands lower prices.

Showing at the fair can be disappointing or exhilarating, but either way, it is sure to be exhausting. Competitors get up in the wee hours of the morning to transport the animals, clean their pens, and prepare them for the exhibition. When Emily Hinton of the Forest Grove FFA complained about lack of sleep, fellow member Tanner Smith couldn't help smirking.

'You got to wake up at five? You're lucky,' said Smith, who had risen two hours earlier. Due to the day's hard work, Smith decided to take a light nap in the hog pen. He pulled a baseball cap over his eyes and lay down right on top of two giant pigs. This didn't seem to bother them in the least, and they continued snoozing.

It wasn't only farm kids who got in on the action, however. Bryan Woods, a city-dweller from Troutdale, made a splash at the fair with his Black Angus breeding cow, Whisper, which won Supreme Champion Female. Because he doesn't live in the countryside, Woods works at Schmidlin Farms in Banks to pay for lodging of his small cattle herd.

'I've been raising cattle since I was 10,' said Woods, now 15. Winning top honors and potentially earning money are great incentives to participate in livestock shows, he said. Like many other 4-H and FFA members, however, his favorite part is simply spending time with the animals. 'The fun part of it is that you get to work with them and be with them a lot,' said Woods.