Contact: Nick Houtman, Dept. of Public Affairs, 207-581-3777, firstname.lastname@example.org;
Shirley Hager, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, 207-581-3183, email@example.com
ORONO, Maine – The Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts, may be the mother of New England’s agricultural fairs. For the more than 60 Maine 4-H members who competed at the BigE last September, it was the chance to put finishing touches on months of hard work. Their efforts paid off with awards and first and second place finishes in dairy, horse, beef, sheep and working steer categories.
“The kids work for this all year long,” says Shirley Hager, University of Maine Cooperative Extension program administrator in Orono. “Eastern States is the culmination of a process that starts with projects in local 4-H clubs.” BigE ran from Sept. 17 to Oct. 3 with entertainment, parades, carnival rides, food demonstrations, livestock exhibitions and other attractions.
More than one million people went through the gates, the largest attendance since the first event in 1917.
Like candidates for all-star sports teams, members of Maine’s 139 4-H clubs must qualify for the opportunity to go to the BigE. They participate in at least one and sometimes multiple tryout sessions in which judges rank their knowledge and their ability to care for and manage animals.
Youths in the working steer competition participated in three tryouts during the summer to win a seat on one of the largest working steer youth competitions in New England. Working steer is a young version of a pair of oxen. Eight members of the Maine team attended the BigE and brought home several first and second place honors. The Maine team placed second overall in collective points.
During two days of 4-H sheep showing, the 17 members of the Maine team competed in breed classes and showed their skills through a knowledge exam, a blocking contest, quiz bowl, an educational exhibit and rigorous showmanship classes. The Maine contestants brought home championship and first place honors.
The 61 beef category participants from all states kept busy in five days of competition in judging, educational exhibits, beef records, a hands-on “skil-a-thon,” a beef breed show and fitting and showmanship. The 20 members of the Maine team brought home four first place finishes in the fitting and showmanship categories, winning Grand Champion, Reserved Grand Champion, Highly Commended and Commended showpersons. The grooming team also ranked first.
Members in the 4-H horse program participated in tryouts June 25 in Skowhegan. While twenty-two girls and one boy took a chartered bus to West Springfield, their horses arrived in two vans that hold ten horses each. The show consisted of fitting and showmanship, an equitation class, pleasure class and one other class of the kids’ choice. The extra classes included a command class, hunter over fences, hunter under saddle, trail class or Western handiness. The kids also took a knowledge test and judging class and competed in a quiz bowl.
The Interstate Drill Team, a group of riders from all New England States who perform riding patterns to music, was coached by two Maine volunteers from Houlton.
The Maine 4-H dairy team consisted of 20 members who participated in quiz bowl, clipping, fitting, judging and showmanship competitions. They brought home first place finishes in clipping and judging for Ayrshire cattle. The Maine team also had the second-place State Jersey Herd.
Financial support for the 4-H members’ participation comes from the Pine Tree State 4-H Foundation, the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs, the Maine Extension Homemakers Council and the Eastern States Exposition, the non-profit organization that hosts the BigE.