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Livestock judging takes center stage

A day of threatening skies and occasional rain didn't put too much of a damper on Wednesday's opening of the Niagara County Fair.

About 800 people packed the Farm-City Breakfast, the traditional opening event.

"We might have gotten a good boost because Congresswoman Kathy Hochul attended," said Cathy Lovejoy Maloney, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County, which organizes the fair.

As the keynote speaker, Dawn M. Timm, Niagara County environmental science coordinator, talked about "going green."

Green, of course, is the color of 4-H, and the young would-be farmers sprang right into action with a heavy day of livestock judging.

Maria Shafer, 16, of Middleport, was one of the happy exhibitors. Starbelle, her 7-year-old goat, won the grand and reserve championships in the senior doe division.

Starbelle copped top honors despite being a little grouchy Wednesday.

"Last year, she was OK. This year, she didn't want to let me touch her legs," said Maria, who has been competing in livestock contests at the fair for eight years.

The key to a winning goat is symmetry, Maria said, along with good muscles.

"You want the back, the loins, to be long, because that's good meat," she explained.

But Starbelle isn't headed for Friday night's livestock auction. She will be bred to produce more champion goats, Maria said.

Maria also won a first place Wednesday with Starbelle's daughter Lulu in the 24-to-36-month-old goat competition.

Will Ziemendorf, 16, of Sanborn, also was a major presence in the show ring with his goat, Buddy, who won the grand champion honors in the junior percentage doe competition.

Percentage, he explained, refers to the genetic combination of meat goat and dairy goat blood in each animal.

"It's all how you work with them. You can train them," Will said.

Unlike Starbelle, Buddy is headed for Friday night's auction. Will said he expects to pocket $2 to $3 a pound for his goats, which weigh in at 60 to 80 pounds.

The highlight of the auction each year is the sale of cows and steers. Wyatt Schultz, a Ransomville 9-year-old, posted a sign in the barn over the stall of his shorthorn bull that read, "Please Come Bid on Wilbur."

Wilbur, who is just over a year old, weighs in at 1,205 pounds, said Wyatt, a first-timer at the fair.

He's maintaining a family tradition in showing cattle at the fair. "My dad did it. My uncle did it," Wyatt said.

He's also showing Key Ridge Diamond, a 2-year-old cow, and April, her 4-month-old calf.

Outside the barn, Joe Townsend of Cambria was getting ready for Wednesday night's antique tractor parade.

Townsend had brought his 1950 John Deere Model M. "My son [Andrew] is 16 now, and you have to be 16 to drive it in the parade," Townsend said.

Maloney said almost 60 tractors were entered in the parade. Most were lined up near one of the gates to the fairgrounds, a collection of shiny green John Deeres, red Farmalls and orange Massey-Fergusons that obviously hadn't seen a muddy farm field recently.

Maloney said the fair's first farmer's market, which wasn't finalized in time for the printing of the fair program, is set for Friday. Only about seven farmers are expected for the daylong event.

"It's not going to be huge. A lot of farmers can't make the insurance. I don't think farmers are used to carrying as much insurance as we need for the fair. We're going to try to work that out for next year," Maloney said.

Friday night will be fireworks night, too. "It's a super family-friendly event. For $2, you can't go wrong," Maloney said.

The annual chicken barbecue, one of the fair's mainstays, will start at noon today. Prices are $8 for adults and $6 for children under age 12. The fair will conclude at 6 p.m. Sunday.