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Area youth ready animals for State Fair

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Brooke DeCant with one of the turkeys she and sister Madisyn raised to compete at the N.C. State Fair.

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By Cindy Beamon
Albemarle Life Editor

Friday, October 13, 2017

The time for fattening turkeys, goats and sheep, hogs and heifers is over.

The North Carolina State Fair opened Thursday with the chance for youth from area counties and across the state to show off the animals they have raised.

Hunter McMillen of Grandy is seeking to claim his fifth blue ribbon at the N.C. State Fair for grand champion hog. The 11-year-old has won national championships in travels across the nation as well, said Hunter's father Emmett McMillen, a farmer in Harbinger and landscaping business owner.

Madisyn DeCant of Shawboro, wishes her turkey was a little meatier than it turned out. Last June, she and sister Brooke brought home 6 poults with hopes of turning two of them into prizing-winning turkeys.

At the same time, Lauren Winslow, a junior at Northeastern High School, was feeding her lamb twice a day and getting to know its personality.

When she enters the ring, Winslow will be judged on how well she handles her sheep, along with the animal's physical condition.

"It has a lot to do with the work you put into them," said Winslow.

The three youth are joining hundreds of participants in Raleigh for competitions that began Thursday with the State Fair's opening.

Jared Harrell, livestock extension agent for the area, said local participation is up for this year’s fair.

"We probably have more kids than we ever have before," he said. "Most aren't raised on a farm, so it's a great opportunity for them."

Mason Lawrence, 4-H agent with Pasquotank's Cooperative Extension office, estimated about 35 youth from the county will show one or more animals, including 18 turkeys.

Danelle Barco, 4-H agent for Camden, said she expects 13 county youth will enter the N.C. State Fair this year. Barco said she's been keeping up with participants through online chats and chance encounters.

She learned that one sheep was on a diet because it was too fat. Judges will be looking for livestock in good condition -- not too much jiggle -- she noted.

The turkeys are another matter. Judges will be looking for big, plumb breasts that will look good on the dinner plate. Last year's top contenders weighed 40 to 50 pounds.

Stephanie Minton, 4-H program assistant in Currituck, said her six-year-old son Caleb's bird weighed about half that amount at its last weigh-in. Minton said growers with more experience in cooler parts of the state have the advantage. Turkeys do not do as well in warmer climates. No matter how Caleb's bird places, raising the turkey has been a great learning experience for area youth, she said.

The DeCants said their free-roaming turkeys weighed around 19 pounds at their last measure. Madisyn said she used high-protein, high-fat feed but their birds may have gotten too much exercise. That's not all bad because their muscle tone is good, she added.

Considering the competition, DeCant said she was not expecting to win a blue ribbon this time.

She was excited anyway about the prospects of hanging out with other young competitors and about the fun rides at the fair grounds. She also liked learning about the science behind raising the birds.

The DeCants are among five competitors from Currituck, including Hunter McMillen. Hunter's father said Hunter had to work hard to get his hogs and lamb in shape for the competition. To attain their athletic physique and stamina, show animals have to be specially trained, groomed, exercised and fed, he said.

The hogs are even trained to walk with heads high, in a show-winning prance. McMillen is among competitors who follow a circuit of contest across the country about every weekend, he noted.

Winslow, who is entering a lamb for the second year at the N.C. State Fair, said she knows competition will be tough. Last year, her age division included 200 competitors.

"Still you never know," she said about her chances of winning.

Although she's new to showing livestock, Winslow began competing with horses at the state fair when she was six years old.

"It's became a tradition," she said.

What's happening?

What: N.C. State Fair

When: Oct. 12-22, 8 a.m. to midnight

Where: N.C. State Fairgrounds, 1025 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh

Admission: $10 at the gate/$5 children 6-12/$6 military with ID. Additional cost for rides and certain shows. Discounts available.

Schedule/information: ncstatefair.org

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