Winning fever ran high at the Eastern States Exposition affectionately known as the Big E. Over in the Mallory Building, cattle were being powdered, clipped, blow dried and polished as though being prepared for a wedding. Instead, they entered the show ring to meet the judges. Attended by 352,175 people by the end of Tuesday, Sept. 22, the fair ends Oct. 4.
The Oatley family from Exeter, RI starred again, among many repeat participants. Olivia Oatley, 14, won 1st in showmanship and All of the Breeds Champion Showman, showing a spectacular crossbred steer. “It was about me, it wasn’t about the animal, how I show the animal; how the animal looks isn’t it. It’s how I present it, how I handle it.”
She was accompanied by her parents, her older sister Victoria, her brother and her “adopted sister” Annie Rathbun, collectively showing 10 animals. Her older brother Ethan Oatley has been showing Grand Champions for years. Olivia said, “My dad started it when I was young, and we just carried it on.”
The Exeter West Greenwich High School freshman worked daily with her 1 1/2 year old steer. “Once it was warm enough, we wash them, we dry them, practice standing – back legs one behind the other and the front legs square, practice that stance just about every day,” forming a working relationship that glowed inside the ring.
Her brother, Ethan, won Spring Heifer Class with a Chianina.
Kelsey Jurgilewicz of Norfolk, CT won 1 of 3 showmanship classes with her Simmental, Francis, Champion Heifer Calf (born Feb. 15) who will continue on as a show cow and reigned in as Reserve Champion Showman. She has worked cattle, “Since I could walk.”
She and other contestants continually stroked the belly of their cattle in the show ring with a show stick, to try to keep them calm, distracted. “They judge my ability to show her. She knows me; it’s my job to learn her,” she said, with winning results.
John Bertrand of the 100 acre Auburn, MA Hillcrest Farm, raising 90 head of purebred Simmental beef cattle, attended the Big E for the second time, now that he is graduated. The fair occurs just when school begins. “I never came here; my parents never let me skip so much school. Now I’m older, I come here more often.” He paid close attention as he clipped the Simmental, Scarlett, a year old this past Sept. 2. Their farm won Grand Champion Bull, 1st in pair of calves, pair of yearlings, exhibitor’s herd, 1st and 2nd Jr. Yearling Heifer, Reserve Champion Heifer Calf, Premiere Exhibitor and more.
Meanwhile, over in the Coliseum the Ox-pull occurred. Brian Mollison attended with his team, Bandit and Zeus, his 10th team, working oxen all his life at his parents’ Ashfield, MA home before moving to Savoy.
Some drivers encouraged their teams to pull the stoneboat with loud yelling and a vigorous laying on of their whips, very different than the quiet waiting during cattle judging.
Mike Audet of Harwinton, CT has also worked with oxen all his life and competes all over New England. He came in first Sept. 20 at the Belchertown Fair, and strove to repeat that performance again at the Big E, driving his team Gator and Tiger.
You don’t have to grow up with cattle or have a farm to win. Denia Young, age 12, showed her first show cow, a fall yearling Ayrshire — officially named Burdette Princess-ET of Ethier Acres, affectionately called Princess — last year at the Vermont State Fair and won Jr. Champion Open and Reserve Jr. Champion at the 4-H Show. Princess is housed at their neighbors. “She was over the moon,” said her mother Jenny Young who works at Rupert Valley Holsteins in West Rupert VT. “We knew we bought a good quality heifer. You want to do well; the ultimate goal is to win Jr. Champion. Now the goal here would be to win the class and go for Jr. Champion,” but as her daughter is learning more all the time, if she doesn’t win, that’s okay with her. It is her daughter’s first Big E show appearance.
“I was surprised a little. I didn’t even know that I won, everyone had to tell me. I was just standing in the ring holding her. My grandma told me that I won; I guess I won. I’m real proud of her,” Denia Young says of Princess and her previous Jr. Champion win. “She’s taught me a lot of stuff. I need to, like, respect her; I know it’s not about how she looks, it’s like how she feels. When she doesn’t walk, I don’t want to smack her. I don’t think that’s appropriate, I don’t want to take it too far, don’t want to push her; baby steps. I want her to learn how to walk, know I can improve her walking, going at her speed. I understand she’s a cow; she’s stubborn, got her own personality, and I’ve learned to respect it.”