FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (DTN) -- Joshua and Dana Stewart and their two children, Jewel and Henry, raise cattle, market goats and market sheep on their farm near Judsonia, Arkansas. This time of year, the family is usually busy as they prepare for the upcoming livestock show season -- for all three types of livestock. They think about working in the barns and competing in show rings.
"My favorite part about showing animals is waking up early in the morning to help my mom at the barn," Jewel said. "This helps us make a plan, and I know what to do."
Jewel's little brother, Henry, is also active with the livestock. The 7-year-old has one particular animal that he favors amongst the rest on the farm. "I have a cow that I used to show, and she was born in our barn," Henry said. "Every time I have a break from working at the barn, I will go out to see her. She's the only cow on our entire farm that will let me pet her."
This year, the family had to make big adjustments because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several of their normal shows got canceled, and they had to decide whether they would even buy animals for the remainder of the show season.
"We raise goats and cattle, but we went ahead and purchased sheep this year. Josh and I talked about it, and we thought it would be a good opportunity for Jewel and Henry to learn more about a different livestock species," Dana said. "Regardless of whether we get to show or not, the kids will have learned a valuable lesson."
This also gave the Stewarts a different perspective on the traditional show season that so many families are accustomed to taking part in.
"Sometimes it's a whirlwind, which usually brings a lot of stress," Josh said. "This has been more focused. We can see the kids learning as they go, instead of realizing it at the end of the show season like normal."
ARKANSAS STILL PLANS TO HOLD STATE FAIR
While numerous states have canceled the conventional state fairs, the Stewarts' state of Arkansas still might have an opportunity to go forward as originally planned.
As of mid-July, the Arkansas State Fair Board of Directors is still researching different options for the possibility to hold a fair in the traditional face-to-face method. One of the current COVID-19 restrictions for the state of Arkansas is 66% capacity for large events.
"My recommendation to the board was to come up with a plan that is pandemic sensitive, but could still give our patrons a pleasurable experience," said Doug White, president and general manager of the Arkansas State Fairgrounds. "The board wanted more financial information regarding the different options available."
Plans are still up in the air for the Arkansas State Fair, and a variety of arrangements are being assessed.
"This could mean no fair events at all. It could mean that we have a carnival with food trucks and a livestock show with only 66% capacity," White said. "The third option is to host only a livestock show."
Besides the Stewarts, other U.S. families are watching and waiting to see what local, state and national livestock organizations will decide regarding livestock shows and other agricultural events. Many are continuing to work in their barns and fields to prepare their animals for the day that shows can finally return to normal.
GETTING A CHANCE TO SHOW
The Stewarts live in Arkansas' White County, where the county fair has been canceled. However, there are many individuals working around the clock to ensure the youths of White County still get a chance to show their animals that they worked so hard on. It hasn't gone unnoticed.
"I am thankful for the chance to show my animals. I want more experience, so that I can do better when I go to bigger shows," Jewel said.
While the county fair has been replaced with a livestock show only, the Stewarts are anxiously waiting for news of the Arkansas State Fair. There are many factors that will go into the final decision of the board of the directors.
"My charge is to determine how much money we'll lose if we go with the livestock-show-only option. Every fair depends on the midway experience to fund the other areas, primarily livestock," White said.
CONCERNED ABOUT HEALTH AND SAFETY
The Arkansas State Fair Board of Directors is also highly concerned about the health and safety of fairgoers, livestock exhibitors and fair staff and volunteers. They are looking to see what other states have decided. With many of the state fairs across the country occurring in the late-summer months, they will make decisions much sooner than Arkansas. The Arkansas State Fair is held in October, so they have a little bit more time to decide.
"Around 41 of the top 100 fairs in North America are still possibly going to hold their fairs. The other 59 have already canceled in some form or fashion," White told DTN in early July. A few days later, on July 13, another state fair canceled -- the Kansas State Fair.
According to White, only 20 fairs will end up going through with their events. He's not completely sure if Arkansas will be among those 20 or not.
The board of directors is wrestling with the safety of the citizens and continuing the education of those same individuals about agriculture and livestock. On the other hand, there are 4-H and FFA members who invested a large amount of time and money into their livestock projects for shows that are now being canceled.
"(The Arkansas Livestock Show Association) mission is livestock and kids. We know these kids have purchased animals, are raising them and taking care of them, White said. "We would hate to deny them the opportunity to come to the state fair."
The Arkansas State Fair's mission statement says that it strives to showcase Arkansas with a focus on agriculture, livestock, the arts, and technology and promote youth and youth development.
MISSION AND SLOGAN ARE PART OF LIFE
For the Stewart family, the fair's mission statement translates to their everyday life on the farm.
Dana grew up around livestock, so she knows the importance of having her own children involved in the farm life.
"Living on the farm is a great opportunity to teach our kids a set of values that would be more difficult for them to get elsewhere. It teaches them things like responsibility, integrity and hard work," Dana said. "It also gives them ownership in the project they are doing."
The family has its own slogan: "Banners are made in the barn and picked up in the ring." This pushes home the message of how hard work can truly pay off.
Their White County livestock show is still slated to be held in-person. The Stewarts plan to attend that show and other shows in hopes of picking up in the show ring a banner or two that has been in the making all summer in their barn.
"We are excited to still go to the county livestock show," Dana said. "We will continue to work hard to prepare for the show, even if it does eventually get canceled."
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