ULYSSES - Shelby and Mika Schultz dressed quickly in shorts and t-shirts and slipped on rubber boots before heading to the Grant County fairgrounds at sunrise Wednesday morning.
A passerby commented to their mother, Paige Kratzer, that it was nice to see them smiling so early in the morning.
“It’s show day,” said Paige. “This is their debut, their grand finale, and they get to show what they can do.”
The county fair is what they have been preparing for all year.
Like all 4-H'ers with animals, Shelby, 15, and Mika, 12, spend every morning of the week-long fair tending to their livestock. The Schultz’s must water and feed their market goats and steer and heifer. With 100-degree temperatures, it was imperative that they check the animals throughout the day, to ensure they had fresh water.
They would return later to wash and prepare the goats for the evening competition. But first they had to head home, about two miles from the fairgrounds, and change clothes so they could be back for their craft judging.
The day before, Shelby received the Overall Grand Champion award for her angel food cake with a butter cream icing.
Growing up, Paige, and her husband, Jaime Kratzer were members of 4-H clubs. It’s something they are now passing along to their children.
Jamie grew up in Ohio, the birthplace of 4-H in the U.S. Albert Belmont Graham started the first youth program near Lena, Ohio in 1902. That club was called the “The Tomato Club or the “Corn Growing Club, “ according to the 4-H web site. Jamie was a member the “Paw Pals,” which was a club that focused on dogs. His dad had also grown up in 4-H.
“4-H has driven me to what I do today. It’s why I am in a ag-based business,” said Jaime Kratzer, who works for Kansas Feeds LLC.
Paige was a Lane County Eager Beaver, focusing on foods, crafts and clothing. Her mother, Amber Reifschneider showed sheep and was in clothing construction and knitting in Rush County as a Center Conqueror
4-H members pledge their hearts to greater loyalty, hands to greater service and health to better living. It was being an Pawnee County 4-H member that led Shelby and Mika's great-grand father, the late John Graver to keep his marriage to Hulda Schroeder a secret. He was 18 at the time the couple eloped and he had a steer he wanted to show at the fair. He couldn’t do that if he was married.
Shelby and Mika and their parents have been running back and forth to the fairgrounds all week.
At the Kratzer’s rural home, just east of a herd of grazing buffalo, everyone was busy. Except Mika, who sat patiently while Paige braided her hair.
“This is my go-to hair do,” Mika said, as she endured the pain of having her blond locks pulled tightly at the roots, while her mother created two French braids down the back of her head.
Amber, known as Nana to her grandaughters, was ironing shirts the girls would wear later in the day when they showed their goats. She had been visiting for several days helping her girls wherever she was needed. She knew from raising her own two daughters in 4-H, it was, “Good, quality time together.”
“What really makes me proud is they want to do this with me,” said Amber, who currently teaches foods and nutrition and culinary arts at Dighton High School.
“She’s our saving grace,” said Paige.
Shelby was busy picking out a necklace to jazz up her outfit in the show ring.
“Judges like bling,” said Mika.
“It attracts their attention,” said Shelby.
“Some don’t like it,” warned Amber. “It’s the judge's opinion.”
Then discussion on showmanship ensued between three generations of females, with differing 4-H experiences.
“Showmanship is all about how you present yourself and work with your animal,” said Shelby, with the confidence of someone with several county fair wins under her belt and several large, glittery, champion belt buckles to prove she knows what she is doing.
Paige said the four market goats' behavior in the show ring is influenced by her daughters.
“Shelby’s more cool, calm, collected and the animals sense that,” Paige said. “Mika is more colorful and energized and her goats reflect that.”
Meanwhile, 6-year-old Bella, was still at the fairgrounds watching the swine show. When the family headed home, she asked to stay with a friend to watch the show.
With a keen interest in anything to do with the county fair, this year Bella is participating in 4-H as a Cloverbud, which is for children between kindergarten and second grade.
Her sisters call her the goat whisperer and ask for her help when they struggle, coaxing their stubborn goats forward. Bella happily comes to their aid and miraculously gets the goat to walk calmly by her side
Two years ago Mika was working with a goat who wouldn’t cooperate as she struggled to lead it, recalled Paige.
“Mika cried ‘ are raising kids this hard?’ I told her at least you can put the goat back in the the pen, you can’t do that with your kids,” Paige said.
Life can be difficult. There are challenges, Shelby and Mika are learning this every time they face a hurdle in a 4-H project.
“The things 4-H is teaching my kids is immeasurable,” Paige said.
Win or lose, she said, they compete for the sport of it.
Happiest during the fair
“Never let good enough be enough,” was the message on the back of the t-shirt Paige wore Wednesday morning, as she headed off to laminate the girls entry numbers for the goat show. While her daughters are learning responsibility with their projects, as a parent she said getting everything organized to bring to the fair is important for parents. Logistics are everything, especially getting all the projects to town in one piece and on time.
“Some families go boating or camping,” said Paige. “We do 4-H.”
Along with working as an agricultural businessman, Jamie Kratzer is the owner of Kratzer Show Goats. He volunteers as the leader of the goat project and is goat superintendent for the Grant County Fair.
“He’s happiest during fair week,” said Mika.
Just west of their house is a pasture where about 68 Boer goats graze.
When they bought the property several years ago, Kratzer realized there wasn't enough land to raise calves, but there was enough for the show goats. They raise a variety known as Boar, a breed developed in South Africa in the 1900’s. They are known for their meat, rather than milk production. Jamie has learned some tricks to the trade, including assembling a walk-in cooler in his barn. He found the cooler online through purple wave auction. It came from Mid-Continent airport during the reconstruction. Inside are misters and fans, and because it’s so well insulated he hasn’t had to turn the cooler on yet.
“The cool air makes the animals think it’s winter and encourages hair growth," Kratzer said. He can cool off five or six goats at a time.
He has a treadmill available for the goats to exercise their leg muscles.
This year there are about 30 to 40 kids enrolled in the project, with about 60 goats in the show.
“As project leader I hope the kids learn from the project,” he said.
Shelby and Mika already agree they are learning new skills in 4-H. Shelby doesn’t shy away from leadership roles at Ulysses High School where she is a sophomore.
“It’s teaching me to be braver in front of a crowd,” said Mika, who will begin 7th grade in August.
Billie Chesney, Grant County Ag and natural resource extension agent said that Grant County had 137 4-H’ers and nine Cloverbuds this year. She said the kids are not just doing their projects for the county fair, but for life.
“We want to be sure they understand the projects and the process,” Chesney said. That’s why they have the 4-H’ers turn in their record books to be judged at the fair.
In the show ring
By late afternoon the temperature was over 100 degrees. A man kept adjusting a switch on a pole alongside the show arena, perhaps trying to make the fans spin faster.
The bleachers were filling as Shelby, Mika and Bella arrived with hair perfectly coiffed, bling on the back pockets of their blue jeans and appearing poised and ready for the goat show.
In between time in the show ring, towels dipped in ice water were placed on the goats backs to keep them cool and to tighten leg muscles.
Shelby's female goat, Gypsy won reserve overall doe and her boy goat received overall wether. A wether is a castrated goat. Mika's girl goat won her class and her boy goat won heavyweight.
By the time the Cloverbuds walked out to show their skills in the open class, Bella was more than ready. She had been standing patiently waiting at the gate. While other children waved to a parent or struggled to control the goat they were showing, Bella stood poised, gently caressing her goat’s ear.
Even at 6, Bella was embracing 4-H, just as the three generations before her.