Golden once more
With all the hustle and bustle Friday, the scene at the Jackson County Expo seemed like any other opening day at the county fair.
Except that it wasn’t.
Junior livestock presenters and their families, coaches and supporters from Siskiyou County, California, made the short trek from their home fairgrounds in Yreka to put on their summer livestock show and sale at the fairgrounds just across state border.
With their own Siskiyou Golden Fair (scheduled for Aug. 10-14) canceled by the 60,000-acre McKinney Fire, hundreds of kids were left in the lurch just days before the fair.
The McKinney Fire is now 80% contained, but firefighting operations are ongoing and life in Siskiyou County is still far from normal.
With animals timed just right for weigh-in at the fair, months of work and dedication to prepare for the annual show and sale looked like it might be wasted with no place to show.
Adding insult to injury, livestock presenters had already dealt with other cancellations and struggles in recent years from the pandemic and other fires.
On Friday in Central Point, however, life felt pretty normal, offering up a state of Jefferson sort of camaraderie between two counties. The Expo was awash in signs bearing thanks and club monikers from Northern California.
Siskiyou and Jackson county officials rallied to put on the event this weekend, hosting meals for auction buyers, arranging supply trucks and even lining up a smattering of food trucks for fair-goers. Volunteers helped transport animals north, and a bus company volunteered transportation services for families.
Weigh-in kicked off with steers, heifers, poultry and turkeys Friday morning, and kids were ready to present the fruits of their labor, busily brushing cows, wrangling wayward turkeys and keeping a watchful eye on the show ring schedule.
Mary Heffernan, owner of Five Marys Burgers in Fort Jones, California, waited with 13-year-old daughter Maisie and the teen’s steer, Hank.
“We are just so grateful they let us come out. We dry-camped last night with friends, so it felt like we still got to have a little bit of that fair experience. It was a change, but these kids are pretty resilient. They’ve had a tough few years, so they kind of roll with the punches,” said Mary Heffernan.
“The reason they do this is to raise these animals to put food on a family’s table, so they still get to do that, and the timing worked out. A lot of these steer are ready for finish, and they time that exactly right (with fair), so even having to wait a week would have been a big deal for these kids.”
Etna, California, resident Orin Lewis and son Beau, 16, readied the teen’s market steer inside the Krause Barn. Grand champion hog presenter for two years, the teen was thankful to use “such a nice facility.” Father and son said Siskiyou Golden Fair CEO Cliff Munson was as resourceful as the rural communities that pepper their Northern California region.
“We weren’t worried it wouldn’t happen. I think we all knew that Cliff would make sure it was going to happen, whether it was in a barn or not,” said the dad. Down the lane from the Lewis boys, a heifer named Mark — yep, Mark — was blow-dried by Yreka sisters Hannah and Hadley Harrison.
Mark was set for showmanship but would head home with the sisters after fair. Hannah Harrison, 14, said she’d been more worried for market steer and poultry presenters with the Siskiyou Fair canceled.
“Thankfully, I have a replacement heifer, so even if I couldn’t sell her I could keep her and raise cows out of her, but once a market steer gets so big and so old, they have to be finished,” she said.
“It was cool how the two communities came together for us.”
Wendy Hurliman and daughter Kalista, an Etna High School FFA member, readied a heifer named Honey for the show ring. The mother echoed others’ sentiments, voicing confidence in leadership.
“We’re used to our fairgrounds, and we love our fairgrounds and all the tradition of going there, so that part was hard, but I think we all knew our leadership would figure it out,” she said.
Exiting the show ring, placing second with his turkey and bearing a showmanship trophy, Isaac Martin and mom, Laura, corralled an excited turkey named Buttercup. The family said they felt right at home in Olsrud Arena, filled to the brim with poultry pens and familiar faces.
“We’re usually more beef people, but turkeys were a fun thing to try this year,” said the mom.
“One difference, at our fair turkeys were Wednesday and heifers were Friday, so we had to just make it work (to manage both events),” said the mother.
Isaac added, “It’s a little different. Yesterday it took me a while to find everything, but I’m really happy we got to be here.”
Waiting his turn in the show ring, Yreka High School junior and FFA officer Jackson Wood gave his steer, Bart, a scratch on his ear. The teen’s grandma, Robin Wood, picked up trash and talked with kids.
“It’s cool they’ve allowed us to use this place, so we need to keep it clean. We’re so grateful. We know it’s a lot of work, especially after they just got everything cleaned up after their own fair,” she said.
“It’s a really big deal to open their doors to us.”
The elder Wood said she could think of no other group more equipped to handle changes and upheaval than those raised in rural areas to care for animals and learn how to get by in the world.
“The kids that do all this can deal with anything. They’re out in the world, out talking to people, working with their animals. They didn’t get stuck during the pandemic playing video games all day; they were still working and doing their thing,” she said.
“Yreka and Etna have an excellent FFA program. And these kids are as resilient as they come.”
Auction buyers can attend the livestock sale in person, or online at sisqfair.equipmentfacts.com. Sales are set for 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.