Wednesday, August 31, 2011

MN State Fair: Rabbits

As I mentioned earlier, I will be writing about my past experiences as a 4-Her at the Minnesota State Fair for the rest of the week, as the "Great Minnesota Get Together" is currently going on. I showed rabbits in 4-H for many years and showed them at the state fair for as many years as I could from 6th grade (when 4-hers in MN are state fair eligible) on. I recently sold most of my rabbit herd of Jersey Woolies, but intend to get back into the hobby once I can. I also showed dairy steer for a few years, but rabbits were my main livestock project.

As a kid just out of 6th grade, I was shy and quiet and did not know anyone else going to the state fair well. Luckily, I met three girls, one a year older than me and twins who were 2 years older, who also showed rabbits and showed me the ropes of the state fair. I attended the wedding of one of those girls just this January.

Besides caring for the rabbits and everything that entails, there are three mandatory things that every state fair 4-h rabbit exhibitor has to do: spend time at a rabbit educational booth, participate in a skill-a-thon and take a quiz, and participate in showmanship. I enjoyed all of these. At the educational booth, each county signed up for a two hour time slot for the exhibitors to sit with their rabbits at a table as people came up to pet the rabbits and often asked questions. One of the amazing things about the Minnesota State Fair is the educational aspect and each barn has an educational exhibit or booth. One of my younger brothers has Rex rabbits that he took to the state fair when he was old enough. People were always amazed when they got to pet his rabbits as they have fur that feels like velvet.

The skill-a-thon/quiz involved testing on the exhibitor's rabbit knowledge, and the degree of difficulty increased as the exhibitor moved up in age groups. The top 10% from the skill-a-thon/quiz in each age group are finalists and were called back to do personal interviews on their rabbit knowledge and what they have done with their rabbit project. Each 4-h species at the MN state fair has a similar system. For rabbits, the top two winners in each age group from the personal interviews received a chair. Getting a chair was always a big achievement and one our chaperones were excited to hear about.

One of my brothers and I with my mom in 2008 when we both were interview winners.

In 2009, all of my siblings were interview finalists. Another interview finalist from my county is also in the picture.

With my interview chair my last year of 4-H, 2009. This was my 3rd chair and it now sits in my apartment until I get a couch (tomorrow!).

Though I loved when my rabbits showed well, my real niche in the rabbit project was showmanship. I loved to read about rabbits and studied all the time for fun. I was always looking for new ways to gain knowledge. At the state fair, the best of the best come together and I knew it was tough competition as I competed against many of the same people in open shows, but I made it my goal to win showmanship at the state fair.

After winning Advanced Showmanship in 2008. The rabbit I took that year molted his "wool cap", or fur on his forehead, just before judging and got a blue.

In 2009, I was put into a "Select" showmanship class with just two exhibitors. It was for those who had won Advanced showmanship or who taken an ARBA registrar's test, both of which I had done. The rabbit in the picture, Bingo, won a purple ribbon.

Being among so many knowledgeable rabbit exhibitors at the state fair kept me striving to do my best and reach my goals. 

I started out showing rabbits at the state fair as a shy little 6th grader who hardly knew anyone and eventually became more outgoing and was the one showing the younger exhibitors the ropes around the state fair. I made many friends through showing rabbits at the state fair and it has been rewarding to see the younger kids that I remember showing around the fair do well themselves. The MN state fair is truly an amazing experience for 4-Hers. 

Finally, this is my youngest brother with his Reserve Champion Mini Lop at the state fair this year. I couldn't be there for the show this year, as I was last year, but it was good to hear that he did well.

Monday, August 29, 2011

MN State Fair: 4-H State Ambassadors

I mentioned a while back that I would eventually touch on my experience as a Minnesota State 4-H Ambassador. At the moment, the Minnesota State Fair is going on and I can't be there until this Saturday. I love the state fair and it was the always the highlight of my summer, so I miss it terribly right now though I've graduated from 4-H. When I was an ambassador, I wrote an essay titled "Living at the 4-H Hilton" about being a 4-h state ambassador at the state fair and I'm posting an abridged version of it here:

Since one of my former camp counselors became as Minnesota State 4-H Ambassador and loved it, I made it a personal goal to eventually become one, just like her. Within in a month of completing my interview for the prestigious role in May, I was notified that I was one of 23 youth selected from across the state to represent Minnesota 4-H at its best for one year. Upon completing a 4-day orientation in July, I was now considered an official state ambassador, or state ambie as many people like to call us. Attending the Minnesota State Fair was our first role as ambies and thus the 4-H Hilton became my home for 2 weeks prior to the start of my senior year of high school.

Over the many years that 4-Hers have spent in the 4-H Building since it was first built in 1939, it has somehow earned the nickname “The 4-H Hilton”. The first floor is the only part of the 4-H Building that the average fair-goer sees. Down there is where all the action is: the stage performances, karaoke, Lego robotics, conference judging, fashion review shows, demonstrations, and even a flight simulator. The second floor consists of a large cafeteria area where “Caf Staff” serves us 3 delicious meals a day. Separate stairways lead to the third floor boy’s and girl’s dorms. Each dorm houses roughly 500 people in row upon row of bunk beds.

One of my favorite parts of the state fair was a livestock exhibitor was the livestock dance. As state ambies, our job was to make sure that every kid there was having fun, causing us to have to mingle with everybody there. It was a general rule to only dance with one group of people for one song at the most, if that even. For slow dances, we were supposed to try to ask any random person to dance with us, or form a circle group of some of the wallflowers who didn’t want to slow dance. Besides the other “general rules”, we were supposed to try to avoid clumping, or having more than one ambie in a group at a time. Every encampment had its own dance with resulted in a dance every other day once the non-livestock encampments started.

Every day of the state fair, my schedule involved door greeting and working at the 4-H information booth for at least two hours. Door greeting involved a lot of being smiley and saying “Hi, Welcome to the 4-H Building” for an hour straight, then we switched and worked at the info booth for the next hour of our two-hour shift. We had a map of Minnesota behind the info booth for people to mark where they are or were in 4-H with a pin, they was even a national map for out of state members. It was so interesting to listen to some of the stories people told of when they used to be in 4-H. Several of our other jobs included watching the technology area, assisting with exhibitor orientation, working at Little Farm Hands, painting faces on the outdoor stage, and working as judge’s assistants.

One ambie tradition is to have a competition against the artsies, in past years it was a hockey game. This year however, we weren’t able to play hockey so we decided to play human foosball on the fairgrounds instead. They had the human foosball set up at a news station booth and we were allowed to use it for our competition. August 30th Staff Night Out for the ambies, artsies, exhibits staff, dorm staff, and special activities staff, was held in Blaine. I worked at the All You Can Drink Milk Stand that night and I ended up missing the bus over to Staff Night Out. One of the other ambies waited for me and we managed to get a ride there with one of the exhibits staff who was driving over there anyways.

Even just getting to know the other state ambassadors better was a great experience, although there was still drama at times. I learned a lot at the 4-H Hilton in Falcon Heights, MN, largely because of my state ambassador role. Simply door greeting showed me just how much diversity existed even in Minnesota, something I was only mildly aware of previously. One of my highlights of the state fair was hearing someone say that he and his wife met through 4-H because they showed cattle against each other. I love seeing how 4-H brings people together, especially since I’ve gotten to know so many people from it and the state fair is one of the things that strengthens those friendships. This year they were selling t-shirts with a picture of the 4-H Hilton and the saying, “I survived the 4-H Hilton”, that were selling fast. I managed to get a hold of one and I believe it just about sums up my state fair experience this year.

The essay was long, but I trimmed it down a bit. The MN State Fair was just part of my state ambassador experience, but it was a great part. I met many great friends while I was an ambassador, and my boyfriend was a state ambassador with me as well, though we had started dating before then. 

For the rest of the week, until I can go to the state fair myself this weekend, I will be posting about other aspects of my years at the state fair as time allows. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Technology in Dairy

My family's dairy farm is small - just 38 cows. To give some perspective, the average size of a dairy farm in Minnesota was 90 cows as of 2007. In California and other western states, that number is much larger. My family's cows are milked in a 38 stall tie-stall/stanchion barn, which is an older style that most people are more familiar with. Each cow has a stall that is assigned to them and they learn which stall is theirs. With such a small herd and the type of barn we have, my family does not utilize a lot of the more advanced technology, such as robotic milkers and herd management systems.

Today I started technical training through work for a line of dairy automation products and I have two more days of this training. This line includes software and hardware that can sort cows, track cow activity to help monitor which cows have high and low activity, monitor hoof care, and monitor milking. I've been in the dairy industry since I was born but I am continually amazed by the technology that is available. It often makes for less work for the farmer, but it also improves the cows lives as it helps catch things that the farmer might otherwise miss or not notice as quickly.

My boyfriend's family's dairy farm is not much larger than my family's at 100 cows, but it is very different. These cows are housed in a free stall barn, where there are stalls but is all open to the cows which no assigned stalls. Feeding is done as a group, rather than in individual rations. The cows are milked in a parallel parlor. This is where the cows are sent from the free stall barn to a holding area and then into milking stalls on either side of the parlor (thus parallel as there are parallel sides). In the "pit", below the parlor, are the people who milk the cows. Once a side of the parlor is done milking, they exit back into the barn and the next group enters. Sensors read the cow's ID tag as she enters the parlor so that my boyfriend's dad can tell how much milk came from each individual cow during each milking.

The level of technology is different on my family's farm and my boyfriend's family's farm, but they are both good farms doing what works best for them at the moment. Both are also looking into upgrading technology. I enjoy learning about the technology that is available to today's farmers and hearing how it can improve both the farmers and the cows lives. For instance, software and hardware that can detect lameness in cows and gives cows hoof bathes - now that's cool.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Big Move

I'm getting settled into my new apartment in Madison, WI and have been in town for 2 weeks now. The past two weeks have a whirlwind of busy as I had a hotel mix-up, started apartment searching, met some relatives that live near the area, started my new job at BouMatic, moved into my new apartment, and met lots of new people.

My journey to Madison started two weeks ago as I was heading to my home for the week - an extended stay hotel - but due to a mix-up had to find a different place to crash for a couple of nights. I knew I had relatives in the area but I had not known them before. I got in touch with my parents and my Dad called his cousin in Oregon, just outside Madison, and arranged for me to stay there. It was essentially "Nice to meet you! I'm your cousin's daughter and I'll be staying here for a couple of nights." Luckily, my Dad's cousin's family was very nice and friendly. On my first day at work I finally got into my extended hotel stay hotel, which I loved because it had free wireless, breakfast and supper.

Work has been interesting so far and I've met so many people and am learning a lot. Even though I grew up on a dairy farm, I am realizing that there is so much about the industry to learn yet, which is exciting. My boss is in Belgium and works out of the European headquarters in Remicourt, Belgium, but I work closely with a great Brand Management team in Madison. That team has been showing me the ropes and I'm learning everything that my role entails and getting started on some big projects.

Last week I signed the lease on my new apartment and I moved in on Monday. I'm still in the process of settling in, but it's getting there. I'll be bringing one of my rabbits to live here (in it's cage) sometime soon. The complex I live in is just 2 miles from where I work and, though it's still in Madison, I drive by a corn field on my way to work. There's a woods just outside my patio and I love it. Pictures of the place will likely come as I get more settled in.

So far I'm experiencing a huge mixture of loving the city and my new job and greatly missing home. The missing home portion is compounded by the fact that the Douglas County Fair is going on at this moment and this is the first year I've ever missed it completely. Last year was my first year not being in 4-H, but I was still able to make it to part of the fair in between coming home from Missouri and heading back to college.  Still, I'm grateful for this experience and it's definitely a change to be on my own in a new city and a new state.