Showing farm animals at fair teaches teens family business

By Sam Taff
Daily correspondent

As you crest the hill that leads into the Gochenour farm, trees lend the eyes to the beautiful landscape nestled between the mountains west of Lebanon Church in Shenandoah County.

A long way from the roar of traffic, where the early 19th century farm sits, crops quietly rustle in the late summer breeze.

The family has more than 600 acres where they grow corn and grain and raise cattle, pigs and goats.

The key to success of the farm, besides the weather, is family. At the Gochenour farm, youth will carry on the tradition started before tractors offered relief to the back-breaking work.

Kim Gochenour said she and her husband Jeff hope Bethany and Ethan will help keep the farm alive.

“They were always out doing stuff, they started bottle feeding the cattle when they were little,” said Gochenour.

She and her husband have never pushed farm work on Bethany, 16, and Ethan, 14. Their children gained an appreciation on their own.

Unlike the generations before them, they have a vast amount of knowledge at their fingertips thanks to search engines that can answer questions instantly. However, no amount of website searches gives these two the firsthand knowledge that comes with working around animals every day.

The teens also pick up needed information from the 4-H mentors and school Future Farmers of America advisors. To keep track of what they put into the farm each day, the two work on journals.

Day in and day out they work on the farm, but it was an uncle who asked Bethany six years ago if she wanted to show her goats at the Shenandoah County Fair. By showing animals at the fair the Gochenours discovered there is more to a farm than just filling the trough each day.

Through 4-H and FFA they both keep records of their work, including hours and money they put into their animals.

Although the fair only lasts about a week, the work involved in showing an animal at the fair can last an entire year. Bethany and Ethan got their steers and heifers last fall.

They have shown cattle, goats and pigs at the fair every year, but it’s easy to see that goats are their favorite. They raise them on the farm and sell them to other children interested in raising and showing goats. Their goats can be seen at fairs up and down the Shenandoah Valley.

“Goats are pretty easy,” their mother explained. For children interested in showing at the fair she recommends goats for beginners. “You just need a little fenced in area in your backyard.”

It’s that ease of care that has goats on the rise at many fairs, as they are starting to outnumber sheep. This year at the fair the Gochenours will be set up in an area traditionally set for cattle.

“They are a lot cuter [than sheep], they have more personality and they are funny,” Gochenour said with a smile.

Despite the family goat business, Ethan has a preference to show pigs at the fair.

“They are the easiest,” Ethan said while watching for his mom and sister’s reaction. “You don’t have to wash them, you just walk them around the ring and they are tame, they are just like a puppy.”

Ethan’s pigs arrive at the farm as early as April, weighing just 30 pounds. When they come in, he’ll work to get them to market weight while maintaining the showmanship and the lean muscle it will take to win a ribbon.

Youth who show their animals at the fair are judged in two categories. Market is the animal’s overall health and appearance. Showmanship has as much to do with the child showing the animal as the animal itself.

Animals judging high in market categories mean more money when the animal is sold. For the youth working with the animal for months it’s typically the showmanship that brings the proud smile.

“You can’t enter these animals for the money. If you are in it for that you are in it for the wrong reason,” said Gochenour. Hard work and dedication to the animal is what teaches youth the important character traits they will use throughout their lives.

Both Bethany and Ethan spend about three hours each day feeding, grooming and training with their animals.

When fair week rolls around they will spend all day at the fairgrounds.

“It’s a lot of fun. We get there around 6 a.m. and we’re there until about 10 p.m. at night,” Bethany said.

It isn’t all work at the fair though. There is always time for a little fun.

“The executive committee at the fair always has something going on for us to enjoy. This year they are having a barn dance Thursday night for all the exhibitors,” Bethany explained.

The week at the fair ends with the market sale. Each exhibitor gets a chance to sell two of their animals.

“When you sell them it’s the worst part, but it’s the best part too,” Ethan said. Although the animal goes to market it’s a chance for farmers to see their hard work earn a reward and to see how much their animal is worth.

The more work they put into putting an excellent animal to market the better the pay off for the animal at the sale.

But like their mother said, it’s not about the money, it’s the fruit of the labor for these youth.

“It’s a little sad for me,” Bethany said with a smile. “I put a lot of work into it. I’d like the chance to eat it myself.”

Bethany won the reserve grand champion award in 2007 for her goat in the Shenandoah County Fair. Ethan won the reserve grand champion goat award in 2010 at the state fair.

Despite her brother besting her, Bethany said, “I was happy for him.” He showed the goat, but it was the family’s goat business that produce the champion.

“I’ll admit,” Ethan told her, “I learned from you.”

Both teens are involved in the Lebanon Church 4-H Club and Seven Bends 4-H Shooting Education Club.

Bethany will serve as vice president of the Strasburg High School FFA chapter this year and Ethan will be junior parliamentarian for the chapter.

Although Ethan hasn’t figured out what he will do when his showing years are over. Bethany is closer to the end of her career at the fair show barn. She is already looking at colleges to become a veterinarian and continue working with animals.