GREENTOWN — With masks on, some of the best Howard County 4-H members walked into the Livestock Pavilion to demonstrate their mastery with the 4-H five main species — goats, cows, pigs, horses and sheep.
One of the most prestigious titles at the 4-H Fair, Supreme Showman, is a sort of livestock showing marathon in which 4-Hers put their handling skills to the test. There were five kids in the competition, all of whom had won best showman earlier in the fair for one of the five groups of animals.
Ella Byrum, representing the horse project, won the title. She went up against her sister, Eliza Byrum, representing swine, Ryker Mauck, representing sheep, Ashlyn Kelly, representing cattle, and Kristian Stockberger, representing the goat project.
Once the title was announced, the two Byrum girls immediately hugged.
Ella Byrum started in Mini 4-H, and this is her sixth year as a 4-Her. It was her first time at the Supreme Showmanship competition, but she wasn’t surprised when she won.
“I worked my hardest to get here,” Ella Byrum said.
This is the second year in a row two Byrum sisters walked into the Supreme Showmanship competition and one walked out a winner. Last year, Eliza Byrum competed and won, alongside her sister, Emma Byrum. On Wednesday afternoon, Ella Byrum joined Eliza Byrum in the ring, and championed over the top livestock showman in the Howard County 4-H Fair.
“We’re not really competitive,” Ella Byrum said. “(Eliza) helps me learn more about all of the other animals. I know horses, but there’s always a lot to learn.”
Every competition is different, with many factors impacting the outcome, Eliza Byrum said. This year, she said her biggest challenge was with the swine portion of showing.
“That pig was really stubborn, it was going all over the place,” she said. “It had a mind of its own. You never know what kind of animal you’ll be getting.”
In fact, other than the horse, the animals are randomly chosen by drawing. So, the competitors just had to work with as many of the five species as possible before the competition, Josh Winrotte, Howard County Purdue Extension 4-H Youth Development education, said.
“A lot of these kids practice for this competition all year,” Winrotte said. “These are exceptionally skilled kids.”
As an additional barrier, 4-Hers didn’t have a lot of time to work with the other animals this year. At any other fair, the livestock arrives the first day of large animal shows and are on the grounds throughout the fair. But, because of the pandemic, this year’s fair was “show and go.” Animals are brought on the grounds, unloaded, shown and judged, and brought back home, forcing the 4-Hers to work with those animals in a limited window.
“They’ve really had to make adjustments and plan because they knew, ‘I can only work with sheep on such and such day, so I have to be there at this time,’” Winrotte said. “They’ve had to search out time to work with the animals, it really shows how flexible and determined these kids are.”
Eliza Byrum said that while there were many changes that made this year different, it wasn’t all bad.
“I felt like this year has been really fun,” she said. “And, it almost made it easier. Having more time at home, we were able to work with the animals a lot more.”
Many practices were put in place to keep fairgoers and 4-Hers safe this year. Seating is sectioned into 10-foot blocks of bleachers, with 6-foot sections taped off to allow for social distancing. Between each show, the Livestock Pavilion bleachers are sprayed down and sanitizer is widely available throughout the 4-H areas. While masks aren’t mandatory for fairgoers, they are required for all staff, volunteers and 4-Hers while they’re participating in a project or show.
“The kids started working with their animals with masks on in May,” Winrotte said. “Which involved not only countering for the discomfort of wearing a mask but getting animals to adjust to the volume of their voice, and just learning how to talk to people while masked. They have to talk to the judge while wearing a mask.”
“Look how adaptable these kids are to some drastic changes. It’s really impressive.”
In fact, the Byrum sisters cited wearing the face covering as the only truly difficult factor.
“Showing in the mask, that’s tough,” Eliza Byrum said. “When we’re done, we’re just gassed.”
The judge, Bailey Kiff, is a 10 year 4-Her and Purdue University graduate. Before declaring Ella Byrum winner, he told the audience to be proud of the competitors.
“Each of these kids has something awfully unique for the breed they represent,” he said. “These kids have something rare, they went through their skills with a fine-tooth comb. Pushing through a pandemic and coming out here, we should be awfully proud of them.”