Friday, August 10, 2007

All's Fair

Contrary to what most people think about Big Sky Country, I grew up here with very little animal experience-- other than a mysterious parade of short-lived dogs and cats we had when I was between the ages of 9-15. (When a large bird of prey carries off your chihuahua, you know something more powerful is at work.)

At any rate, my current nanny job took me to the Western Montana Fair once again this year, only instead of casually walking through the livestock section to look at some freakishly feathered chicken, I spent the last 2 days there.

4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America for you city slickers) certainly have their own culture. Some of the stereotypes are true-- the Toby Keith "put a boot up the terrorists' butts" attitude and all, but the kid I watch for 3 days a week is a very sensitive, intellectual type. He entered a lamb in this year's competition, and as I watched him and his sister today I learned some very interesting things about this foreign culture.

What do you think they use to wash the sheep before the competition? Guess. Shampoo, dish soap, special livestock soap? No. Woolite. I'm totally serious. After their bath many are dressed in sheep leotards-- I'm not lying-- to keep them clean. Talking to another 4-H participant, apparently they make them for horses and cows as well. They come in 2 piece options for larger animals. I couldn't make this stuff up.

The actual competition took well over an hour. I'd guess probably 100 lambs were shown, grouped together by weight. To "show" the lambs, kids (ages 6-17) have to hold on to their lambs' heads (no leashes, ropes or anything!) and lead them around a ring, which, as you can imagine, is a lot easier said than done. Many of the lambs outweighed their tiny masters, and jerked them around the ring.

The judge seemed bizarrely knowledgeable about how sheep loins were supposed to look and feel (uh oh, I think a bad farmer joke is coming on....fight it....) The only truly disturbing thing about the whole process was that at several times the judge would switch from talking about the beauty and gentleness of the animal to mentioning what a "desirable carcass" it would be when it was "hanging up." Seriously.

In a way, it was like watching Miss America. The judges compare the muscle and shape, the way the sheep/lady is presented, and both are judged completely on appearances and assumptions. I think the only real difference is that when beauty contestants are being judged, they don't piss on the floor.

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