CENTRE HALL, Pa. — If you’re at the Centre County Grange Fair, there’s a good chance you can find Katie Elder and Emily Allegar together in the livestock barns.
“It’s been fun because we’ve been showing together since we were 9, and we’ve been best friends since like first grade,” Allegar said.
The friends, who grew up in State College and are now sophomores at Penn State University, started their 4-H careers with rabbits.
They now focus on livestock — beef and pigs for Elder, sheep and pigs for Allegar.
Neither woman grew up on a farm, but they have been developing contacts in agriculture throughout their show careers.
When Allegar was first looking for a place to house her animals, her mother suggested a farmer who lived down the road.
“I sent him this handwritten letter when I was like 9 asking if I could keep things there, and so I’ve had them there ever since,” Allegar said.
Elder, who showed two champion heifers at this year’s Grange Fair, works with the beef cattle at her boyfriend’s family’s farm, where she houses her pigs and a heifer she owns.
Those experiences have made Elder, an animal science major, interested in a career in beef nutrition or genetics.
Elder said she was “ecstatic” that she took first place in both of her pig classes on Monday. She had never shown pigs before, but she decided a few days before the deadline this year that she was going to try it.
Once she had the pigs, she worked with them frequently to get them in show form, just as she did with her cattle.
“With beef you have to work with them because you can very much tell the difference with somebody who worked with their beef and somebody who didn’t,” she said.
Allegar ended up showing one of Elder’s pigs for her after her two hogs ended up in the same class.
Allegar, the 2014 Grange Fair queen, enjoys talking to people at the fair and answering their questions about her animals.
Given the importance of food and farm products in people’s lives, it’s surprising how little most people know about ag, she said.
She and Elder have had plenty of interactions with children at the fair over the years. After one boy started asking her about her sheep, Allegar asked him how much he thought it weighed.
He guessed 128 pounds, and he was only off by 3 pounds. After that, “he was running around the barns guessing all their weights and then looking at the name tags to see what it was,” Allegar said.
Talking with people at the fair is one reason Allegar, an ag science major, wants to have a career in something related to agricultural education.
Speaking of education, Allegar and Elder missed the first day of classes at Penn State because of the fair’s Monday morning swine show.
By lunchtime, the two had spent so much of their time in the livestock area that they had barely ventured into the rest of the sprawling fairground.
“We keep saying we’ve got to go up to the commercial buildings and see everybody’s projects, and another day goes by and we haven’t gone up there yet,” Elder said.
Unless they are visiting their favorite food stands, the livestock area is really where she and Allegar would prefer to be at the fair, spending time with each other, their animals and their 4-H and FFA friends.
One of their friends is Kayla Kimble, a senior at Bellefonte Area High School who showed pigs and horses at the Grange Fair.
Kimble said she got her equine interest from her mother, Lea Ann Kimble. Her father, Robb Kimble, showed livestock when he was a youth.
After getting the pigs in April, Kimble walked them daily to build their stamina for the show ring.
In mid-July, Kimble switched the pigs from a self-feeder to hand feeding to make sure they ate the right amount for their frame.
“It’s sort of a fine line in between because you want fat with your pork chops, but you don’t want your pork chops to be all fat,” she said.
Kimble walked the line pretty well, earning champion lightweight crossbred and reserve champion intermediate weight crossbred.
Though horses and pigs are both smart and listen well, the two are shown in very different ways.
Besides the obvious size difference, horses need constant tiny corrections. “The pigs, when they’re going, you have to get out of the way” and not micromanage them, Kimble said.
Kimble agreed with Allegar and Elder that, outside the livestock barns, food is the fair’s main attraction for her.
“Chicken on a stick’s a must,” along with the bread bowl, she said.
Kimble is also developing her resume beyond the show ring. She was recently chosen to be vice president of internal affairs for the state 4-H Council, and she plans to become a disease researcher after college.
The pig show concluded around lunchtime on Monday, an hour or so before the solar eclipse began.
With the fairgrounds far from the optimal viewing conditions in the Carolinas, the women were not quite sure what to expect from the sky — or their animals.
“Are my animals just going to like freak out?” Elder wondered.
“I don’t think there’s going to be anything weird that happens, but I could be wrong,” Kimble said.
Kimble was probably right. Cloud cover and darkness from an approaching storm made it difficult to know that the eclipse was even happening.
It probably didn’t matter too much. The moon passing in front of the sun was fleeting, while these three women have friendships that will likely last for years to come.