By Alicia Dziak
For many, the Erie County Fair means rides, shows and the type of food that probably wouldn’t fit into your diet. But for many local kids, the Fair is a place where their year-round hard work pays off—the animal shows.
Families from all over WNY head to the Fair with their animals and high hopes.
The Hoffman family owns a farm on Wyandale Road in Springville. The busy dairy farm milks 200 Holsteins (the black and white ones) and have about 500 total. It is a family-run operation, spanning four generations, the youngest being SGI students Ryder, 13, Carter, 12, Blakelee, 10, and Harrison, 8.
Their parents, Lindsay and Dave, got the kids involved in showing calves at the Fair five years ago, and it has become a family tradition. Both Lindsay and Dave showed at the Fair as kids, and actually met each other there when they were teenagers.
Prepping for the Fair is not something that begins and ends with the Fair dates, of course. It’s a year-round commitment. “A lot happens before the show,” said Lindsay. “You have to feed (the calves) a special diet, keep them clean and train them.”
Days before the Fair begins, the Hoffman’s are at the Fairgrounds preparing for the show. The second day of the Fair brings the Showmanship Show, where kids are judged on how they lead their animals, how clean the animals are and how the kids show them.
The “big show,” the WNY Regional Show, is Sunday, Aug. 14. It’s broken down into the ages of the animals and judged on “what they look like, body style and pedigree,” Lindsay explained. Cows, for example, should not be overweight and judges look at everything — from back structure to udders.
Between shows, the daily routine begins at 6 a.m.
“We have to wash them, scrub them, feed them, clean out their stalls, and lead them around so they’re used to people and are calm during the shows,” Lindsay said. The rest of the time, the family and many others like them, can be found hanging out in the barns with their animals, milking the cows and answering any questions the passers-by may have. Lindsay said it’s a great experience for her kids and “it teaches them to be friendly” as they step out of their comfort zones.After five years, the Hoffman clan has a wealth of Fair experience, bringing 10 calves and cows with them this year.
“It’s a good experience and fun to show them,” Ryder said of his days at the Fair.
“I like showing them to see how they do,” Carter added.
Blakelee said that her favorite part is “just hanging out with the cows,” and that she especially likes when she can brush them and fluff up their tails.
Harrison was only three years old when the family started coming to the Fair to show their animals. ““I like showing because I like walking the (calves),” he said.
Anything worth doing comes with some challenges, and showing animals is no different. Ryder and Blakelee agree that training and getting the calves to walk are the hardest part. Harrison thinks feeding them is the biggest challenge. And Carter said that “washing them and getting stains out” proves to be the most difficult.
Besides taking away from the experience a strong work ethic, the Hoffman kids have lasting memories of their time spent at the Fair.
“Three years ago, we won the Junior Championship for the best calf there,” Ryder said.
Blakelee enjoys the “down time” playing cards with her brothers, parents and another family. “We go in the tack stalls and play,” she said.
“My favorite memory is scaring people with a (fake) rat and fishing line!” Carter laughed.
The Hoffmans and many other local families will be in Barn 5 at the Erie County Fairgrounds through Monday. (After that, another group of kids will take their place, showing a different breed of cows.) Stop in and say hi (and beware of fake rats!)
For more information about the Fair and all the animal shows, visit www.ecfair.org.