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Animal House

At the L.A. County Fair, youngsters can see and touch all kinds of farm critters.

September 10, 1998|LAURIE K. SCHENDEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Newborn chicks, pink-nosed baby pigs and cattle the size of compact cars aren't your typical Southern California attractions. These farm animals are, however, among the most popular sights at the L.A. County Fair, which opens today in Pomona.

The fair may be the only place that some area youths get to see and touch live animals--rarely do agriculture and breeding farms top the must-see lists in these parts, where theme parks and Hollywood lore command much of the attention. For the young people who raise sheep, cattle, goats and horses, however, the county fair is their chance to shine.

Fair-goers can get an up-close look at the thousands of livestock contestants on the daily barn tours, beginning at the Barn Tour Depot, new to the fair this year. Visitors can step behind the scenes to meet the junior division livestock contestants, who've spent all year preparing their prized pets for the center ring.

Dana Evard of Rowland Heights, a five-year veteran of the junior dairy goat competitions, will be among them. She wasn't raised on a farm, nor did her family own any animals, but Dana, 20, joined the Future Farmers of America program through Rowland High School as a freshman. She picked a dairy goat from among the dairy heifers and steers, sheep and goats offered.

"I didn't want a market animal that would go off to slaughter," she said. "There were a couple goats that were pregnant that nobody wanted, and they were going to be sent to auction. I started with one, and two weeks later she had her baby."

Dana raised the baby, an all-white LaMancha goat, which she named "Sassy," a reflection of the animal's personality. Sassy will be among the 15 dairy goats Dana will show at the 1998 county fair, her last in junior competition.

"I never imagined it would go this far," said Charlene Evard, Dana's mother. "She just built her herd up. . . . She just loves her goats."

Juniors compete in four divisions at the fair: 4-H, Future Farmers, open junior and college. Young people compete in open adult classes, but most of those events are dominated by professional ranchers from all over the West.

"It can be stressful," said Evard, who, with her husband, Everett, accompanies their daughter to fairs. "But it's real rewarding when she does well."

While some competitors spend thousands of dollars on their animals, many of the junior participants, including Dana, started out with what Evard refers to as "$10 goats." What her goats may lack in champion genes, however, Dana makes up with dedication. She is up at 5 a.m. each day to feed and milk her goats, which she keeps on a neighbor's property. She works all day (not surprisingly, at the Knott's Berry Farm petting zoo), then returns in the evening to repeat her chores.

At competitions, before entering a show ring, animals must be cleaned and clipped. Dairy goats are also judged on their milk capacity.

"If they can hold a lot, that's good," Dana explained, "but it has to be in proportion to the size of the goat."

The animals are also expected to stand before a judge with their feet in a square--but the younger ones don't always cooperate.

"I have one, Magic Charm, who is really high-strung," Dana said. "But in the ring, she is totally different. She walks in the ring with her head up proud."

Livestock competitions begin today and are included in fair admission for spectators. For an up-close animal encounter, youngsters can touch and mingle with four-legged critters in the petting area, which is home to goats, sheep and rabbits.

Young fairgoers can also see live animals at Storybook Farm in the barn area, where the animals are featured players in classic fairy tales such as "The Three Little Pigs" and "The Red Pony."

All fair spectators can participate in livestock competitions by judging the small stock events in the "Furry Friends and Fancy Feathers" exhibit, held in Fairplex 8A beginning at 9 a.m. daily. Learn about grooming, breeding and caring for rabbits, poultry and pigeons, then fill out a "You Be the Judge" form to cast votes for the animals.

Chances are good that visitors will see baby chicks hatching in the California Egg Board's display. Nine incubators are packed with hundreds of eggs. Kids may also drift to the duck pond, where domestic and game ducks will frolic throughout the fair.

Farmer-friendly contests will take place in the Fairplex buildings and barn area, including the Rooster Crowing and Hen Cackling contest (Sept. 19, 2 p.m.) and sheep shearing and spinning contests (Sept. 23-27). Angora rabbit breeders will demonstrate fur spinning daily, showing how fur is "carded" from the rabbit with a brush and spun into yarn. Shawls and quilts made out of the yarn will be raffled off.

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