7/29/2013 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delaware Correspondent
HARRINGTON, Del. — The Delaware State Fair in Harrington plays host every July to concerts, a dazzling midway and attractions from the “world’s smallest woman” to the “world’s tiniest horse.”
You can buy deep-fried Oreo cookies, watch ice skaters or view fireworks while you ride the Ferris wheel or have your weight guessed.
But at its heart, this is still an agricultural fair. People from all over Delmarva bring their prized jams and succulent melons to be judged. You can watch racing pigs, see FFA competitions or watch an antique tractor pull.
Nowhere is the fair’s agricultural history more evident than in the wildly popular Livestock Extravaganza. The fair has been going strong for 94 years and for the last decade, the top young livestock showmen have gathered for the event.
The annual Livestock Extravaganza, held Tuesday, was followed two days later by the junior livestock auction of the grand and reserve champions.
Young competitors, some of them smaller than their animals, are judged on their livestock showing abilities. An hour before the competition begins, most seats are saved by eager parents and grandparents. Young people bring their prized animals to compete for grand and reserve champion titles for sheep, steers, goats and pigs.
Music plays, the flag is saluted and the judges are introduced. The emcee this year was former Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse. The judges always show up in black tie and a white shirt with a single red carnation. The sartorial splendor is completed with blue jeans and boots.
It’s the culmination of a year of dedication for the young farmers. They have regularly risen before dawn and spent much of the last year grooming, washing, feeding and tending to their animals.
A few are knocked down by determined livestock, and guiding pigs while they are judged can perhaps be generously described as an inexact science. But the young farmers are determined and judge after judge praise both their knowledge and their sportsmanship.
Scuse called the young people “the heart and soul of our present.”
Roughly 378 junior competitors came to this year’s fair, but only the best of the best made it to Tuesday’s evening’s show. Only eight steers, 20 hogs, 20 lambs and 30 goats were chosen to be judged.
Competitors showed animals in the four categories. Judges clearly had a difficult time making their winning choices and every judge pauses to praise the quality of the competition.
Paige Wright was named grand champion of the market lamb category. Miranda Hunter won the reserve champion award.
Mindy Cook earned market and reserve champion honors in the market goat category.
Brother and sister Dylan and Lauren Nickerson swept the grand and reserve champion awards in the market steer category. The siblings are familiar faces around the livestock barns and they are perennial contenders for the top honors.
In the market hog category, Drew Harris won grand champion honors while Sara Somers was named reserve champion.
After the individual competition, the most prestigious award of the evening was awarded. The overall Livestock Showman Award was presented to the young competitor who proved best at showing all four varieties of animal.
This year’s award came down to Morgan Jewell, Mindy Cook, Ridge Betts and Rodney Wilson.
All four took turns showing each of the four classes of animals.
At the end of the night, Cook won top honors as the overall livestock showman.