If you went to the Erie County Fair this summer, you know that it is an unusual mixture of sounds, smells, sights and people that blend together for a fun summer day.
But you probably didn't realize just how much effort was going on behind the scenes. If you went to see the animals, you might not have considered where the animals came from, who brought them to the fair or why they were there.
Often, it's teens who bring the animals to the fair after raising them for months.
Racheal Smith, a senior at Springville-Griffith Institute, is one such teen who raises these animals and shows them off and sells them at the fair.
She began to show her animals when she was 7 years old.
"Some other members in our 4-H group were doing it and it seemed really cool. I always went to the fair every year and liked looking at the animals," she said. "4-H is such a fun program. Within our club, the Collins Center Critters, we do lots of crafts and projects as well as the 4-H livestock program in which 4-H-ers raise livestock animals from a little after birth until the auction day at the fair."
Racheal and her family spend the first two weeks of August at the fair, staying in a camper and keeping extremely busy.
"I rarely get any sleep. I'm constantly walking back and forth to the camper for meals, or sitting in the barn telling people about my animals," Racheal said. "I also hang out with friends, see some of the different shows, take care of the animals, and just stay really crazy and completely busy all the time."
But the craziness starts for Racheal before the fair even begins.
"Back in February is when pigs and lambs will have their babies, then in April you go to the breeder's house and bid on the animal," Racheal said. "If you have the highest bid you get them and bring them home. You have to get them to know who you are, get them to respond to you, and get their muscles to develop."
Racheal also is responsible for getting bidders to come out and buy her animals.
"A couple weeks before the fair starts we get these passes in the mail for getting your bidders into the fair and [letting them know] the auctioning days and times," she said. "Along with these passes, we send them information about ourselves and our animals to persuade them to buy our animals."
Last year, Racheal decided to try and get someone different to come out and look at her animals.
"I thought of sending a letter to [Erie County Legislator] John Mills to get an animal. I didn't hear anything from him, but I thought 'At least I got him to understand what the 4-H program is,'" she said. "Then I got a call that said that he was bringing [then-Erie County Executive] Chris Collins. There were a lot of interviewers [from the media], and it was really scary, but he purchased my pig, Shirley Temple, then sent her to the Hidden Valley Animal Center. She's there now and has had two litters of piglets. They declared the auction day he bought her (Aug. 14, 2011) National Racheal Smith Day!"
Collins purchased the 265 pound pig from Racheal for $2,385, and Racheal was featured on WYRK for the release of her pig into the petting zoo.
Showing her animals is a lot of work. She brings pigs, lambs and chickens to the fair, and has to use different techniques for all of the animals to show them off to the judges.
"With the pigs, you use a cane, a whip or a pipe, and use it to guide the pig around the show ring. You make eye contact with the judge, and show every side of the pig to him. You always want to stay on the opposite side of your pig," Racheal said. "It's really stressful but really fun.
"Then with the lambs you have to keep the lamb between you and the judge and you hold the lamb's head to guide it. You set them up and you push your knee into their chest, which makes their muscles stick out. But the judges just come out and look at the chickens. I don't even have to be there for that."
Racheal has begun to help a new generation of 4-H members learn the ropes.
"This year at the fair, I helped the Fair Camp kids show market lambs for a small show on the last day of the fair," she said. "Other 4-H-ers and I explained to the kids how to set up the lamb, how to hold the lamb, and different things about the lamb that was essential to showing it. It was really cute to see them trying to set up a lamb twice their size."
There are also different competitions for the animals, including a dress-up contest.
"The animal dress-up contest is a small competition between participating 4-H-ers that dress up their market animals in costumes that depict the theme of the fair that year. In the past, my pigs have been sparkly fish, fair games and even frogs that turn into princes," she said.
Racheal has a chance of winning in certain competitions and always sells her animals by the end of each fair. She earns enough money from the fair to buy and provide for her animals the following year and tuck away some money for college.
"I really like showing my animals. I like the competitiveness of it, and I love making new friends and hanging out with them for two weeks," Racheal said.
But this isn't the only thing that Racheal does. She also hunts and traps, which are popular pastimes in the rural Springville area.
"I started following my dad out hunting when I was only 4, and I loved it," she said. "I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. All the animals and the sounds in the woods excited me. I enjoy being able to spend time with my dad."
Besides excelling at the fair, Racheal also excels in her hunting and trapping. "In 2011, I won the Youth of the Year award at the Erie County Sportsmen's Banquet. I had no idea that my family could keep such a big thing away from me for so long. So when they announced who the recipient was, I was really surprised."
So next year when you are at the fair, stop by the barns and look at all the animals. You can go there to see the cute little sheep, or you can be amazed at all that teens can accomplish in just four months.
Alissa Roy is a senior at Springville-Griffith Institute.