by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

HEMLOCK, NY — Meredith Swarts didn’t let a lack of animals stop her from competing in the Hemlock Fair. The 13-year-old 8th grader at Livonia Central School borrowed a cow from Cadyville Farm in Livonia to participate.

“It’s really nice of the owner, Chris Cicero, to let us use them for showing and bring them to the fair,” Meredith said.

The farm is home to around 200 pastured cows, including Holsteins and Jerseys.

This year, Meredith and her 4-H group brought eight cows to the fair, along with some rabbits and chickens. It’s her second year of participating in both 4-H and showing.

“I love showing cows and working with the animals,” she said. “I also love the crafts we do and the opportunities we can have through 4-H.”

Her younger sister, Laine, 11, also participates in 4-H.

Meredith’s cow won 4th place in the open class, a result which pleased her considering her relative inexperience. She said she enjoyed improving her techniques since the 2018 show.

“I learned about how to bond with the animal this year,” Meredith said. “It’s about thinking like you’re on the same team and reaching goals. And asking them nicely to walk instead of dragging them around — that was last year. This year, we tried to not hold them as closely and let them find their own way. Once they lock their front feet it never works.”

Meredith follows in the footsteps of her father, Peter Swarts, who grew up in 4-H on a dairy farm. He works in the Youth Employment Program through Livingston County. Though her mother, Audrey Swarts didn’t grow up in an ag setting, she also tries to help Meredith with showing. Audrey works as an accountant for Livingston County.

“The 4-H leaders mostly help and they give you pointers,” Meredith said.

She lives about a five-minute drive from the farm, which helps her keep in close contact with “her” cow. Nine youth in her 4-H group showed at the Hemlock Fair.

To prepare for the show, they worked with their animals at the farm for about an hour, two or three times a week, and then closer to the fair, four to five times weekly and for longer periods. They also began washing and clipping the animals under the tutelage of their 4-H leaders, Jen Silvernail, Jessica Silvernail, Matt Cicero, Aaron Ebersold and Mary Mott.

“Some things I’ve found helpful is they respond well to praise and rewards,” Meredith said. “If you’re pulling hard, it doesn’t hurt and it’s uncomfortable. If they walk, immediately release. That release is their reward. Give lots of praise, and making sure they feel good. They’re like dogs. They want to be petted and given attention. Don’t be mad at them if they won’t walk.”

She also advises walking more slowly in the ring, paying attention to smilng and facing the judge as she makes her rounds.

“The judge isn’t going to talk but use hand signals when he wants you to walk,” she said. “Make sure that you’re always in control. When you stop, the cow’s front feet should be level and one back foot behind the other. Their head should be up high. The judges look for different things. If they give pointers, follow those the next time you go into the ring.”

When she’s not preparing for a fair, she likes spending her free time swimming, participating in school musicals and playing with her dog.

“I’m really thankful for 4-H and Cadyville Farms for giving me this opportunity to learn,” Meredith said. “I meet some really cool people.”