The long-awaited Big E in Springfield, MA has been bustling with people. As of Sept. 21, exactly 813,719 people had entered the gates so far, organizers say.
The fair extended from Sept. 12-28, with exhibits such as the chick hatchery, where people watched chicks hatch behind a glass enclosure, or goat milking demonstrations by Dan Reynolds of The Reynolds Barn of North Kinstown, RI. Reynolds has been a Big E participant for 12 years, and selling goat soap there for two years. “I enjoy meeting different people. I got to teach a blind man how to milk a goat. It’s not every day you get to do that. It was a fair highlight,” he said.
The Mallory Building by the Ferris Wheel filled up on Friday night, with beef cattle representing 4-H throughout New England. It is often a family affair, with team members becoming extended family. Anne Demko of Southwick, MA led the Massachusetts Beef Team, bringing 20 kids from Cape Cod to western Massachusetts. Demko has attended the Big E for 18 years. She and her husband, Mike Demko Jr., are both Advisory Board members for the Big E 4-H Committee. This year they attended with their granddaughters Haley-Ann and Riley Lynch.
Of the 20 kids and their 24 animals, four placed very high, Demko said. By Sunday afternoon, they had earned Champion Simmental Heifer, Reserve Champion in Heavyweight Division and Highly Commended Steer out of 30 in the class, Champion Highland, and Reserve Angus heifer.
The cattle were extremely docile and easy-going, due to having been constantly handled by their owners who have trimmed their hooves, given them haircuts and baths and blown them dry in preparation. Fans run constantly in the building to keep both cattle and handlers cool.
Massachusetts team member McKenzie McLarnon earned Champion with her Simmental. Emily Mullen of Dighton, MA, shows animals for the Double RD Farm in Dudley, MA, only a few minutes for her home and likes working with Simmentals. “I like how docile they are,” she said.
Mike Demko Jr. recalled showing his cattle in the same building in the 1960s when it was full of 132 steers and nowhere to sit. “The Mallory Building was originally built in the ‘60s for the beef. That’s why it has open doors. Beef cattle like it cool,” referring to its four huge garage bay doors. Before then, beef cattle were shown in the barn on the other side of the Coliseum. He showed Herefords, Simmentals and Gelbviehs, and his brother Nick showed Angus.
“We showed all over the country. We never got any Grand Champions. They always did well in the carcass class, when the end product is in the cooler,” he said, assessed by a committee that grades the beef after they are hung on fat marbling and prime choice cuts such as steak.
The cattle from this Big E’s show will also be graded on marbling and beef cuts too, and given premiums according to their assessments. “On Monday there will be a lot of sorrow” said Anna, as the children say goodbye to the cattle they have worked so hard to perfect, as they are sold at the beef sale. Next year, they begin the cycle again, buying calves to raise and show.
Another 4-H family resides in Exeter, RI. “I married into 4-H,” said Terri Oatley, whose husband Vern Oatley has been coming to the Big E since ‘74. “I met him in ‘88 and have been coming ever since.”
Their daughter Victoria, 22, earned Grand Champion in Youth Show and Reserve Grand Champion in the Open Show with her Galloways this year. Aged out of 4-H, she helps out in judging, and loves, “The whole experience, definitely giving back, giving back for the future of the beef industry.”
Their son Ethan Oatley, 18, recent graduate of Exeter-West Greenwich High School, won Grand Champion four years in a row, and champion five years. He doesn’t have a favorite breed, but just likes showing steers. “We do it as a family. I pick out calves and my mom feeds them.”
He buys calves in October. His secret is washing them daily, weather permitting — over 50 degrees — and keeping their coats oiled with an olive oil spray. “I go out there 2 to 3 times a day and wash them. They get walked every day. I get up at 6 a.m., walk him three laps in the front yard. At night he gets three more laps,” referring to his heaviest steer.
Repeated washing stimulates hair growth and keeps them cool. “They eat better, gain more weight; it’s all about keeping them happy: hair grows better, end up looking better. I’m out there at least six hours a day in the summer, more than that,” he said.
“He just comes in to eat. It’s a full time job,” said his mother.