Hard work pays off at the Allen County Fair

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Like many youth who compete at the Allen County Fair, 4-H runs in the family for the Malcolms.

Eighteen-year-old Maranda Malcolm is wrapping up her 10th year in 4-H while her brother, Micah, 17, is in his 9th year.

The rest of their siblings — Madilyn, 14; Makenna, 11; Malachi, 10; and Merek, 8 — are either members of the local Eel River Club as well or likely will be someday.

Both of their parents were 10-year 4-H members, showing either goats or lambs.

The Malcolms live on a pig farm and their grandfather raises rabbits, so they’ve got a menagerie of animals to care for come fair time.

Having so many projects and members of the family means everyone helps everyone out, Maranda said.

And there’s a lot of work to go around. Not only do those in 4-H take four animal projects and other indoor projects, the Malcolms also compete in the showmanship categories, which is less about the animal and more about the kids themselves.

“The judge is looking specifically at you and what you do and that you show off the animal the best that you can,” Maranda explained.

The Allen County Fair has nine different species that compete in showmanship categories, and each is shown differently — cattle are shown with a halter, goats with a collar, pigs walks around guided by a stick called a whip and sheep are shown with only one’s hands, Maranda explained.

But animals don’t show their best automatically, and the showmanship contests demonstrate which kids have put in the extra work to train them. Pigs, for example, have to be trained to walk straight and smoothly with their head up, Maranda said.

“We have to practice with them, we have to walk them laps, work with them on keeping their head up,” she said. “Sheep we have to work on bracing them, that’s where we kind of get their feet parallel and make them flex their back so their muscles are nice and hard.”

Working with one’s animal can take hours a day, Maranda said, as well as a lot of determination, Micah added.

“If you really want to do it and you want to compete and win you’ve got to put in the time and work,” he said. “You can’t just come out one day, pet your animal, give it a little feed and water and go back inside and watch TV.”

Micah should know — he won senior showman last year in the sheep category.

“Getting that animal [to show] right took the correct feeding, working hours among hours, coming out, bracing, walking, halter, we walk them everywhere around here,” he said of the work involved.

After each species declares a showman champion, each species winner competes in what Allen County calls the Showman of Showmen, where everyone shows all nine species and a top winner is chosen.

“With the Showman of Showmen, they’re looking for how do you show the animal at a basic level and then certain judges will do things to see who knows more about showing this animal,” Maranda said.

At this level many youth are showing animals they are unfamiliar with, but practice is still key, Maranda said.

“We will actually communicate with some of our friends and our friends’ friends, and they love doing it, helping out and teaching us how to [show these different animals],” she said.

“It’s kind of funny for them because we don’t know what it’s like so we’ll mess up or stumble and they’re like, it’s OK, it’s OK, because they remember those days as well when that was them.”

Because in the end, the judge will look to see who shows all the animals the best.

“The judge looks for who falls first and that one is out. He’s looking for the kid who can last the longest,” Micah said.

Again, he should know — he also won the Showman of Showmen last year.

“The judge … came right to me and shook my hand and told me that I’m going to win this deal,” he said. “It’s just a great feeling because all the hard work that was put into it from my sisters and I working the animals until now, it was just a great feeling to win it.”

For anyone interested in any of the events at the 4-H fair, learning from others is key, Maranda and Micah said.

“It’s a life lesson because if you want to go out and work hard it’s going to pay off,” Micah said.