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Livestock exhibitors turn to naps, caffeine for long days at fair
Fair animal care pic1
Chatom 4-H members try to stay awake during the long hours they spend at the fair by helping other members with barn duty. Pictured from left to right: Alexa Oliveira, Makenzie Neves and Hayley Williamson. - photo by MAEGAN MARTENS / The Journal
Working 19-hour days during the 10-day run at the Stanislaus County Fair can be exhausting but what helps some local 4-H and FFA animal exhibitors get by are quick cat naps and an overdose of caffeine. “The week before the fair we are up early and going all day preparing for the fair so by the time the fair hits town we are all exhausted,” said Hayley Williamson, Chatom 4-H member. “Sometimes I get really cranky and I argue with my sister because I am so tired,” she said. In past years, Williamson has gone home during the day for some shut eye to prevent those cranky arguments, but this year she hasn’t taken a nap yet and she hopes to battle against those heavy eyes and stick it out with her animals. “I like to know what is going on,” she said, defending her nap-less days. Williamson’s day at the fair consists of waking up at 4:30 a.m. to milk one of her five heifers. She ends her day washing her animals, depending on how dirty they are, and then calling it a night at around 11 p.m., she said. Her mornings start off with feeding all five of her animals, giving them water, cleaning up their stalls, mucking out their stalls to provide a fresh straw bed for her animals, washing all her heifers and milking her one heifer who has recently become pregnant again.Williamson is one exhibitor who has longer hours at the fair because she has more animals, but those who have fewer animals can get away with shorter days. “If you have (fewer) animals you have less work,” said Makenzie Neves, Chatom 4-H member. Neves has two animals this year—a Holstein replacement heifer and a Holstein summer yearling. She starts her mornings around 6 a.m. feeding and prepping her animals for the day before the 8 a.m. barn chores begin for all Chatom 4-H members. They are expected to sweep and clean the entire barn daily. Her nights typically end around 11 p.m., that is when the “nighthawks” take over for the rest of the day, Neves said. There are two ‘nighthawks’ for the entire Chatom 4-H barn. They come in around 11 p.m. and stay throughout the night until 4 a.m. Nighthawks patrol the barns making sure the animals are cleaned, watered and fed throughout the night.“We have nighthawks so they can make sure our animals stay clean,” Neves said. “We don’t want them to get stained because it puts more work on us and when we show we don’t want to have to worry about that.” The Chatom 4-H nighthawks are paid $1 per animal per night making it an average of $8 per animal per 4-H member, she said. “A lot of people hire nighthawks but you don’t have to do it,” Neves said. It is already difficult for the livestock exhibitors to keep their eyes open during the long days, so most prefer a nighthawk over sleeping in the barn with their animals, she said. Sacred Heart 8th grader and Chatom 4-H member Alexa Oliveira has trouble keeping her eyes open during the long days so she tries to go home for quick naps, drinks lots of Sprite and makes frequent visits to the wash rack to cool off and wake herself up, she said.  Her advice to those sleepy 4-H and FFA members are “drink lots of soda and try to stay cool because when you are hot you get tired,” Oliveira said. To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.