10/20/2012 7:00 AM
By Dana Gochenour Virginia Correspondent
HARRISONBURG, Va. — No one who visited the Rockingham County Fairgrounds this past weekend would have ever guessed that the Virginia Junior Livestock Expo was born out of the need for a back-up plan.
The barns and tents were filled with cattle, sheep, hogs and goats from around the state to conclude the project year for 4-H and FFA members, and the attitude of participants was that it was business as usual.
The expo, an alternative to the statewide livestock show previously held at the State Fair of Virginia, was organized after the fair’s previous owners declared bankruptcy earlier this year, putting the event’s future in doubt.
The weekend kicked off Friday with the state stockmen’s contest, the agriculture demonstration contest, the breeding sheep show, and the breeding doe goat show, followed by goat showmanship.
“So far, so good,” said Paige Pratt, youth livestock Extension specialist, at the completion of Friday’s events.
Some 536 students turned out for the stockmen’s contest, right on par with last year. With their victory in the senior 4-H division the team from Montgomery County 4-H, led by high individual Colby Redifer, earned the right to represent Virginia at the North American International Livestock Exposition’s 4-H Skill-A-Thon in Louisville, Ky., in November.
Pratt said she was pleased to see that contest participation had not dropped off with the change in venue. She also acknowledged that with all of the changes that have taken place since last year’s events she tried to be “open to the new facility and what (the show) could be here.”
Exhibitors seemed pleased with the new location as well.
“I like the facilities here,” said Shenandoah County resident Garrett Coffey, who competed in the stockmen’s contest and also brought a feeder steer and two heifers for the beef show.
It was the feeder steer’s debut outing, and Coffey admitted that a calf’s first show can get a little interesting. “I like (shows like this) because it helps break them,” Coffey said.
The number of entries within each species either held steady or went up, with the largest increase occurring in the swine show.
Pratt said she saw an increase in entries from the Shenandoah Valley, since the show moved into their backyard, but she believed that those families who were willing to travel to Richmond and Doswell in the past would continue to make the journey no matter where the show was held.
Prizes remained the same as well, thanks to support from state organizations as well as private donations.
“Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stepped up in remarkable ways to be able to offer the same scholarships and premiums (as awarded in the past),” Pratt said.
She added that, in some cases, organizers were even able to “build on the awards from the past,” increasing premiums or giving additional prizes because of donations from businesses and other organizations.
While the livestock show itself remained largely unchanged, and the Virginia Tech Block & Bridle Club brought its famous barbecue to town, there was still a noticeable difference in the atmosphere without the typical midway rides, thrill shows and concerts to occupy exhibitors’ time in between livestock events.
“It’s more convenient (for us), but I miss the rest of the state fair,” said stockmen’s contest participant John-Robert Helsley.
Another program highlighted over the weekend was the Youth Livestock Endowment Initiative, which has been created to generate funding for new and existing youth livestock programs.
“We are trying to build excitement around the initiative because it will allow us to add livestock events that are useful and help build life skills,” said Pratt, adding that organizers would like to raise $750,000 in order to support all of the programs they want to run.
She acknowledged that such a lofty goal may not be immediately attainable, but any income from the fund would be helpful for creating and supporting livestock-related activities.