Many exhibitors’ animals and exhibits won first prizes and championships at the 98th Annual Heath Fair. But everyone participating was a champion, carrying on the tradition of farming and hard work and supporting 4-H members. The theme of this year’s traditional Sunday parade was “Farm and Forest, Then and Now.” For many, the fair is an annual homecoming, attended this year by over 4,000 people.
In the poultry barn, Matthew Martin won Grand Champion, Best of Show for his Light Brahma Bantam and first in each class. He raises over 400 chickens at his 100-acre farm, Apple Valley Beef in Ashfield, MA. He has been raising poultry for 53 years, starting when he was age 9, growing up in Williamsburg. He raises mostly Plymouth Rocks and White Rocks.
When he attended the Northeast Poultry Congress held in West Springfield, MA at the Eastern States Expositions (Big E) that usually averages 5,000 birds a show, “I made a clean sweep. People told me it hasn’t been done since the 1960s. I made a lot of enemies,” he joked.
A fulltime farmer, he also grows hay. He used to raise Angus and Gelbvieh cattle until last year, when he sold his herd of 90 because the cost of raising them proved too high.
He shows his chickens all the way out to Columbus, OH and at the 100th year anniversary of the American Bantam Association, with over 9,500 birds competing. “I had two birds on Champion row,” he said.
To get his chickens ready, each one is blood tested for Pullorum and Avian influenza virus. For the Heath Fair, that meant 20 chickens needed blood tests. Each of his chickens gets a bath a couple days before the fair to be able to get the oils back into their feathers to be glossy for showing. He has anywhere from 400 to 415 chickens at a time. He is perfecting the Columbian color pattern. “It’s a really hard pattern to breed. You need a mating pen to produce good males and a separate pen for good females.”
Over in the cattle barn, 4th generation farmer Brian Belder won Best Bred and Owned, showing his Holsteins named Bow, Muffin and Zero. Zero’s name is in keeping with the mathematical theme as her mother’s name is Squared Root.
He raises them at his family’s 100 acre N Street Acres Belder Farm in Whately, MA, where his father, Brian Belder and his uncle Ron Belder raise a dairy herd of 30 to 40 Holsteins, Ayrshires, Jerseys and Brown Swiss, selling milk to Garelick Farms. He also competes at the Cummington Fair, Greenfield’s Franklin County Fair, Northampton’s Tri-County Fair and the Big E in Springfield. When not attending to his cows, he works at Donnie Bisbee’s Clay Hill Farm in Chesterfield MA.
Bisbee’s team of chocolate brown Percherons, Captain, age 12 and Tom, age 10, was stalled opposite Belder at the fair. They are so tame that strangers could walk by and pet them, overseen by Belder or Bisbee. Bisbee and his wife Faith were tacking up the team to give free hayrides on Sunday, accompanied by their young children Carson and Brooke. They’ve been coming to the Heath Fair for years, and giving hayrides there for three years. They give hayrides at many other places, including apple.
The fair featured many events like a parade, a horse draw, an ox draw, sheep shearing by Kevin Ford, an antique tractor parade, a kids garden tractor pull, rabbit, youth and adult cattle and sheep shows, a demonstration on Smoking Meats by Haynes Turkle of Katywill Farm, a Herd Dog Demo by Colrain’s Jim and Jill Horton Lyon’s Winterberry Farm and fireworks on Friday evening.
The 120 or so 4-Hers and the volunteers were sponsored in part by the Pioneer Valley 4-H Program through the Amherst MA based UMass Extension Service, said Tom Waskiewicz, who has worked for the staff extension for 33 years. Formerly a 4-H member himself, he used to run two 4-H clubs; one in rockets, another in sign language. They sponsored the dairy show, sheep show, goat show, rabbit hall, parade and exhibits.
“The 4-H is very prevalent in that fair. In fact, a lot of our 4-Hers are department chairs, 4-Hers learning by doing. Not only are they learning to exhibit, they’re learning to manage departments,” he said.