The annual fair represents the core of this traditional Western Slope community.
We’re not Durango-Telluride trend setters, we’re not Denver-Boulder city slickers, we’re Montezuma County, agricultural ground zero, with a $1 billion irrigation reservoir, farms stretching to the horizon, cattle in the forest, rodeo events in town, and a stubborn independent spirit reminiscent of the Old West.
And the next generation is taking up the cause, a way of life easily seen at the county fairgrounds this weekend.
During the stock show, youngsters crowd together with goats, sheep, cattle and pigs, ready to show off all their hard work raising quality animals. Parents fade to the background as their progeny confidently take center stage.
“Strong shoulders, fine profile, good muscle tone,” the judge yells out.
In the main ring. dozens of competitors, some just 10 or 11, control their animals with varying success. The young adults have stern, stoic expressions, no messing around, or chatting it up with their friends.
The raw reality and hard work of raising animals for food and clothing provide grounding for country kids, participants say, a refreshing break from the shopping malls and incessant computer screens that brainwash their urban counterparts.
“It teaches hard work and perseverance, to get up early every day and get the job done,” says Kyle Cox, 17, of the experience. He took home first place in the market category for his goat, a hefty Boer named Goatye.
“To win means getting involved in the industry and having the knowledge and understanding of what is quality livestock. For market goats they must have poundage; they’re bought for slaughter.”
The inevitable food cycle of life and death — then dinner — can be a shock for early participants, says Cassie Finley, 14, already a veteran at livestock showing.
“You see the tears with the younger kids at the sale auction, not knowing what will happen with the animal they raised so carefully, whether it will be butchered. But I just tell them ‘that’s the way of life, and you just have to get past it.’”
For Taylor Comisky, 11, harsh weather can be a challenge raising her market goat Hope, who earned fourth place, up from last year’s fifth place showing.
“Sometimes in the winter it is too cold, and in the summer it is too hot, but I go. I love them because they have such funny personalities.”
Keandra Elliot, 12, found a trick that works, and earned a second place in the market division.
“I started running them a lot instead of walking,” she says proudly. “It builds muscle. Raising them teaches responsibility; if you don’t do your job, they can die!”
Caring for an animal translates to later life skills, adds Finley.
“It is a lesson that will help us as adults when we are raising our own kids,” she said.
But there is no time for more questions, and the interviewees drift away as friends are calling and more events are being announced. Wander the fair and enjoy the crafts, photos, research projects, and creativity of local youth. It’s tradition, and free of charge, except for the Demolition Derby.
Friday night brings a demolition derby at the racetrack. Tickets are $10 for adults; children 5 and under are free.
The Ranch Rodeo is also a favorite event and kicks off Saturday, Aug. 3, at 6 p.m.
“It will be a huge hit,” said fairgrounds manager Tanner Young. “There will be a lot of local cowboys competing.”