FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn — For the hundreds of thousands of visitors at the Minnesota State Fair, a day at the fairgrounds involves a lot of walking, a lot of eating, maybe some shopping and the chance to "ooh" and "ahh" over hundreds of animals.
But for the people showing those animals, like the Griffin family from Kara-Kesh Holsteins in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, there's a lot more business going on inside the barns.
The Griffins - Ryan and Karen and their children, Curtis, Evelyn and Agnes - had six of their red and white dairy cows lounging in their stalls when we stopped by on Tuesday, Aug. 30. Though the Cattle Barn was relatively quiet and calm that morning, 10-year-old Evelyn radiated the energy of someone about to live out a long-held dream.
"I'm ready to get out there and do this, and am nervous and excited to do it," she gushed.
"It"... being showing her family's cows at the Minnesota State Fair for the first time.
"When I was little I was glad that I wasn't showing because it looked pretty hard, but once I got used to it I started liking it and getting jealous that I wasn't on the halter in the show ring," she said.
As large, humming fans blew cool air across the building and visitors meandered the aisles, chatting and checking out cattle, Evelyn explained all of the prep work that goes into showing a cow at the State Fair – work that starts long before anyone sets foot inside the fairgrounds.
Back home in Thief River Falls, Evelyn practiced washing her cows and walking them with a halter to prepare them for the pomp and circumstance of a State Fair exhibition, and to make sure that they're used to people approaching their personal space.
"If you don't have any work and they show up at a fair, they're not gonna know what's going on. So they're going to go crazy and it's not gonna end well at all for you," she giggled.
Feeding, walking, and clipping are all part of the prep process, along with making sure the cow's topline – the straight of its back – is clean. One thing the Griffins were not doing before showing their dairy cows? Milking them.
"Their udders look better with milk in them," Evelyn explained. "If we would have milked them it would be like this floppy udder."
As a first-time youth exhibitor, Evelyn was selected to be part of the Minnesota State Fair's BELLE Grant program, which provides $500 gifts to large-animal exhibitors and $250 each to small-animal exhibitors who participated in the fair for the first time this year. She was one of just 16 10 to 18-year-olds across the state chosen to receive a grant.
BELLE Grant recipients were also paired with a peer mentor who helped them prepare for the fair throughout the year.
"If you are confused and you don't know who to ask, you can ask them or a grown up and they can teach you things that you don't know," Evelyn said of her mentor, Bria.
Even though she grew up in the world of dairy cattle, Evelyn said getting to show her family's animals comes comes with an extra layer of excitement.
"It’s fun to interact with your cows, some more than you already do, because you're on the halter, in the ring, trying not to screw up," she said.
As it turned out, her preparation paid off.
On Tuesday, Evelyn presented a cow named Luv in the Red and White Junior 3-year-old class, where she won a third-place white ribbon.
But hours before she entered the Warner Coliseum, Evelyn appeared confident she'd have success in the arena – and shared a little piece of advice for anyone nervous about taking a risk or trying something new.
"I want to tell people that if you're afraid of something, just do it," she said. "And don't hold back."
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