For Colorado 4-H Kids, The Livestock Show Goes On Despite The Pandemic : Coronavirus Live Updates Even as county fairs are being canceled across the country, some are allowing a core element to continue: 4-H club livestock shows. It preserves some normalcy and is a chance to earn college money.
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For Colorado 4-H Kids, The Livestock Show Goes On Despite The Pandemic

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For Colorado 4-H Kids, The Livestock Show Goes On Despite The Pandemic

For Colorado 4-H Kids, The Livestock Show Goes On Despite The Pandemic

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Summer is a season for state and county fairs, or at least normally it is. The threat of COVID-19 has cancelled or postponed the vast majority of fairs across the U.S., but many are finding ways to continue their agricultural mission. From Colorado Public Radio, Stina Sieg has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHEEP BLEATING)

STINA SIEG, BYLINE: The sheep and goats, pigs and cows lounging in the shade of this covered outdoor arena have no idea the strange times we're living through...

(SOUNDBITE OF SHEEP BLEATING)

SIEG: ...Or that there aren't any carnival rides, funnel cake stands or crowds at this year's Mesa County Fair.

HAROLD STAFFORD: I didn't think they were going to have one, you know, because of the coronavirus and stuff.

SIEG: Harold Stafford, a fresh-faced 9-year-old in jeans and a red T-shirt, brought his two sheep...

HAROLD: Bullet and Jack.

SIEG: ...Here to compete for ribbons and be auctioned off. It's all possible because Colorado's agriculture commissioner deems livestock shows and sales essential, says Melissa Wonnenberg, who runs the county's 4-H program.

MELISSA WONNENBERG: We were very aware that when we were given the OK to do this, if we had a huge spike in cases that we would get shut down.

SIEG: But Mesa County, like many rural areas in Colorado, has a coronavirus infection rate that's much lower than the state's big cities. Wonnenberg says that kids in 4-H and Future Farmers of America use money from selling their livestock to buy next year's animals and even to save for college. Without this summer's competitions and sales...

WONNENBERG: I think it would've been a huge hole in an already kind of tough year.

SIEG: Across the country, even fairs in areas hardest-hit by coronavirus are doing their best to still hold youth livestock shows with permission from local health departments. For some, that means shows completely online. But here in Mesa County, the animal competitions are pretty much the same, just with about 20% fewer kids. Twelve-year-old Danielle Long says she's glad to be here with Rocco, her white-and-black lamb. But she's also kind of sad.

DANIELLE LONG: Because we've just became really close friends.

SIEG: With school out since spring, they've spent so much time together, which will end as the fair does.

DANIELLE: It's going to be really hard when he leaves, but I will get over it when I get my next lamb.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHEEP BLEATING)

SIEG: Also at the fairgrounds is a cavernous barn filled with cattle and giant fans keeping them cool. Eighteen-year-old Antonio Treto Alvarez is cleaning up the hooves of his final 4-H steer.

ANTONIO TRETO ALVAREZ: He weighs as much as a truck.

SIEG: And he thinks the big, nameless guy will go far in his competition. It would be a good end to Treto's 11 years in 4-H, starting with lambs.

TRETO ALVAREZ: I've probably hand-raised more sheep than math homework assignments I've turned in.

SIEG: Treto's surrounded by that earthy, pungent smell of manure. He calls it homey.

TRETO ALVAREZ: There's people out and about. They're taking care of their animals. They're getting stuff done. It's a nice feeling, and it's a nice smell.

SIEG: A whiff of something normal in a time so alien.

For NPR News, I'm Stina Sieg in Grand Junction, Colo.

(SOUNDBITE OF DATAROCK SONG, "FA-FA-FA")

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