Extravaganza popularity tests capacity at Del. State Fair

Staff Writer

HARRINGTON, Del. (Aug. 23, 2016) — The number of farmers in Delaware — and the number of livestock producers — may be shrinking, but interest among young people in raising market lambs, goats, hogs and steers to show continues to strengthen, as evidenced by the number of livestock entries at the Delaware State Fair.
There were 342 exhibitors with a total of 519 market animals at this year’s fair. In all, there were 3,251 animals exhibited on the fairgrounds, enjoyed by many of the 262,587 visitors.
Many youngsters in 4-H and FFA, even though they may not live on a farm, have been able to successfully raise a young animal to market age and take pride in showing that animal at the fair.
To showcase their success, about 15 years ago, Delaware State Fair introduced the Livestock Extravaganza, which is staged in the Kent Building.
In most livestock competitions, judging goes on until a grand champion and reserve grand champion of each breed is selected. Delaware’s is one of the few state fairs in which those final selections are made at a later time. At the Livestock Extravaganza, the top animals in each market class are brought together in the same ring, on the same day, breed by breed, to compete for the championship.
“The extravaganza was conceived to really showcase our top-placing young people from our market classes (first and second from each market class) to recognize their hard work and achievement,” said Susan Garey, state 4-H animal science program coordinator. “It was designed to be an exciting, premier event that brings together all four of the livestock species to chose their champion and reserve champion market animals.”
The event includes the Overall Supreme Showman contest. “That contest brings the four champion showman from each of the livestock species together to compete for the overall Supreme Livestock Showman,” Garey said. “It does draw a large crowd, as was hoped for when the event was started.”
Doug Crouse, treasurer of the state fair’s board of directors and state 4-H program leader, recalled the earlier years of the extravaganza. “It was neat when they turned lights down and put spotlights on each child as he or she entered the ring. They looked like movie stars. The extravaganza is one thing I would not miss at the state fair.”
Even Michael Scuse, former state secretary of agriculture, who is now USDA Acting Deputy Secretary has only missed one or two extravaganzas since its inception.
“He always finds a way to get there,” Crouse said. Scuse served this year as master of ceremonies, appearing in a tuxedo.
The extravaganza has gotten rave reviews, Crouse said. He attributed its great success to the quality of the animals, the kids, and how they prepare for the show.
Garey added, “Many, many of our livestock judges have remarked over the years on what a neat event it is, what a great job it does in shining the spotlight on our livestock youth and how they haven't seen anything quite like it anywhere else.
“If you ask our junior livestock exhibitors, they'll surely tell you that they hope to ‘make the Extravaganza.’ They wear their Extravaganza shirts proudly throughout the year.
“My own children exhibit livestock and they would tell you that the Extravaganza makes exhibitors feel extra special because it is a whole evening that is set aside for choosing champions, not just part of the regular show. I suspect that many of our other junior livestock exhibitors would say the same.”
Because of the popularity of the event, the extravaganza is always well attended. Crouse acknowledged, “We could use double the amount of bleachers.”
Spectators include not only friends and family members of the exhibitors but potential buyers in the livestock auction that is to follow.
Garey said, “It is widely known among exhibitors and family members that you cannot show up just prior to the start of the event and expect to get a bleacher seat with a great view.”
Also in or near the ring are many people who are there in case an animal, especially a steer, gets out of control.
“In all the years we’ve done it, we’ve never had a safety concern,” Crouse said.
Over the years there have been discussions about moving the show to a different area, such as the Quillen Arena. The problem, Crouse explained, is in moving animals across the fairgrounds.
“It’s one thing to put a lamb or goat in a halter, but pigs… Trying to move pigs to Quillen would have been almost tragic,” he said.
Moving any animal in the hot temperatures typical of late July is difficult. To then have to show the animals is another problem.
Garey said, “If you are familiar with the grounds, you'll realize there aren't too many other choices on the fairgrounds for livestock competition space.  Enlarging the show ring or taking pen space from exhibitors to add in more seating isn't feasible either, as we are maxed out on space for animals with the number of entries we have.”
Bob Moore, livestock committee chairman for the fair, said they had tried a few years ago having the exhibitors come into the ring without animals, just the kids standing in front of the podium. “People complained. They want to keep the animals there.”
Swine and sheep are quartered in the Kent Building during the fair. There were 198 hogs and 125 lambs just in the market classes.
“There is no place else to put the sheep,” Moore said. “Each building is full to capacity.”
He added that out-of-state exhibitors have had to be turned away.
Harry Raughley, extravaganza committee chairman, said with the current economy, building more pen space isn’t a viable option.
With the fair’s continued efforts to focus on agriculture, Garey said, standing-room only to view the Livestock Extravaganza “is a good problem to have.”