Fair Business: Loudoun Kids Get a Lesson in Agriculture

Sure the Loudoun County Fair, now in its 81st year, offers plenty of allure for those looking for some summer fun, with its swirling carnival rides, scrumptious fried foods, demolition derbies and rodeo acts.

But for many Loudoun kids, typically those who can be spotted at the fairgrounds in dusty jeans and cowboy boots, the fair is serious business.

Many of the kids in 4-H, a club where youth ages 5 to 19 learn about agriculture, have raised animals in the months and even years leading up to fair week, which kicked off Monday and runs through Saturday.

For some 4-Hers, this is their first year raising animals; others have been doing it since they were toddlers. Ryan Virts and Erin Davis, both 17, are among those in the second group. They’ve raised sheep, goats and hogs over the years, and said it’s taught them a lot about responsibility and the agricultural business.

“I think agriculture is really dying in Loudoun County,” Virts said. “There’s a lot more houses instead of farms. [It’s important] for kids to learn about where their food comes from. They need to learn about what Loudoun’s history really is, and its agriculture for sure.”

Erin Calley, age 12, of Middleburg, walks her steer into the "weigh-in" at the Loudoun County Fair on Monday. (Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)
Erin Calley, age 12, of Middleburg, walks her steer into the “weigh-in” at the Loudoun County Fair on Monday. (Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

Many of the kids have been raising their animals—chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs and cattle—over the course of months and years, preparing them for shows and the fair’s Friday night auction. Lamb starts at $3.25 a pound; swine starts at $3.25; goat start at $3; and steer starts at $3 a pound. A steer can go for well over $3,000 at auction.

Davis admits it’s always tough for her to give her animals up each July. This week, she’ll say farewell to her sheep, goats and hogs that she’s spent several months with. “I get really attached to them,” she said. “It’s really hard for me to sell them.”

For 9-year-old Bea Furlow, the excitement comes with raising and showing her pigs and goats. This is her fourth year in the fair, and she is showing a total of 13 animals this week. On top of that, Bea is serving as Little Junior Miss Loudoun County Fair, a title she won during the pageant at the fairgrounds Sunday evening.

Although it can be tricky at times, Bea said she loves working with animals, and wants to continue doing so at least as a hobby. “[The animals] are just really wonderful creatures to be around.”

4-H kids don’t typically consider the animals they raise and sell at the fair to be pets, but a few will say it’s hard not to fall in love with them.

Rebecca Scott, 13, said she decided to raise chickens because she wanted to prove they can be nice animals, too. “I think growing attached to some other kind of animal [aside from dogs and cats], is my favorite part.”

Daniel Morrison holds his silver spangled hamburg pullet at the Loudoun County Fair. (Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)
Daniel Morrison holds his silver spangled hamburg pullet at the Loudoun County Fair. (Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

Jeremiah Morrison, a 14-year-old now in his fifth year as a member of 4-H, is partial to a particular type of livestock. He loves raising Nigerian Dwarf goats because, he says, their milk is especially sweet.

Even his sweet goats are slated to be auctioned off at the end of this week, however. When asked what it’s like to sell the animals, Jeremiah’s father, Todd Morrison, said it’s strictly business.

“[The kids] don’t get personally connected with the animals they’re going to sell,” he said, adding it is not all bad for the livestock. “The animals have a great life,” he said. “It’s just one bad day. It serves a purpose—to nourish us.”

The 4-H Club is still very much the heart of the county fair, which was originally named the Loudoun County 4-H Fair. Its members volunteer to clean up the fairgrounds and run events throughout the week. Most also make it a point to spend time outside of the barns, and the fair’s daily lineup offers a full slate of happenings to keep them, and other fair-goers, entertained.

A pie-eating contest and a professional bull riding competition will headline the fair Thursday, a watermelon-eating contest and Heritage Tinsmithing Demonstration will cap off a full day of events Friday, and the beloved kiss-a-pig contest, professional bull riding and a rodeo will wrap up the fair Saturday.

The fair opens every day at 9 a.m. at the Loudoun County Fairgrounds, 17564 Dry Mill Road near Leesburg. Daily passes are $15 for adults and $5 for children, with specials for senior citizens, members of the military and first responders throughout the week. See the full schedule and purchase tickets at loudouncountyfair.com.

See a slideshow of the Loudoun County Fair here.

Allyson Alto and Dan Virts struggle with a stubborn sheep during the sheep and goat weigh-in at the Loudoun County Fairgrounds on Monday. (Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)
Allyson Alto and Dan Virts struggle with a stubborn sheep during the sheep and goat weigh-in at the Loudoun County Fairgrounds on Monday. (Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)