The Iowa State Fair is, without a doubt, one of the most popular fairs in the United States. In fact, it has been rated by numerous publications as one of the best family vacation spots in the country. It was also listed in the bestselling book by Patricia Schultz, “1000 Places You Must See Before You Die.” Kelly in particular loves the State Fair. I enjoy it too, although maybe not quite as much as he does! It is truly an Iowa tradition and a midwestern legend of sorts, dating back to its first year in 1854. A movie by Rodgers and Hammerstein, "State Fair" was actually based on the Iowa State Fair. Each year, over 1 million people attend this special event, and yesterday, we were among them for the opening day.
This year is a bit different for us because it is the first year we have attended since we have acquired livestock. In fact, last year, we had just obtained our first few chickens and Nubian goats, but we still knew very little. Now, we have a far better understanding of livestock and small farms, so we had a lot more to learn this year because we knew what we wanted to see and what questions we wanted to ask of the experts showing their animals.
We started out yesterday with the Corriedale sheep show.
Our two sheep from the Animal Rescue League are of unknown breed, so we wanted to see some of the various breeds "up close and personal" in order to try to sort out their background. We're pretty sure, now, that they are not Corriedales! Those are really big sheep! Just look at the size of this ram!
The ewes are really big too! Much bigger than our girls - and these two are just yearlings!
The Corriedale is a large breed developed in New Zealand in the 1880s. They were developed from Lincoln sheep crossed with Merino sheep. Naturally hornless, they are useful for both meat and fiber. The fleece (my primary interest!) is 3.5 to 6 inches long and evenly crimped.
I love the naturally coloured sheep because the variations in their fleeces are just wonderful, and I want to start spinning right off the sheep. The judge carefully checks them all over, feeling their body and opening their fleeces at various points on their sides to see if it is consistent and even.
The sheep are also shown in pairs, and in small flocks. We were pleased to see that other people's sheep don't always behave as they are being told to, either.
After the Corriedale show, we had some time to wait for the next sheep show, so we wandered around the fair and visited the agricultural displays and other such delights. We also watched a short talk on bee keeping - something Kelly would like to try in the coming years. One of the other delights of the Iowa State Fair is the food. While there are many things that are so grease-loaded that they are quite inedible, I am very fond of the peppermint bar ice creams from Bauder's Pharmacy, which is an old fashioned pharmacy located in downtown Des Moines, with an ice cream parlour in the back. They make a wonderful peppermint ice cream which they coat with fudge sauce and then chocolate cookie crumbs. It's been written up in both Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazine as being among the best fair food items in the country. I concur!
After some munchies, it was on to the Big Ram competition. This is purely a weight-based competition, and the contestants lined up to be weighed. I couldn't get the whole line-up in one picture - they're too big!
We had seen this big boy when we'd been strolling around earlier. He was in the line up, but he wasn't the biggest. He did have the biggest horns, though.
Sometimes, the rams decided to head-butt their owners. Ouch!
Usually though, they were quite well behaved.
Some of them even looked quite gentle.
Each one left the ring to go stand on a very large scale, and returned to the ring with an announcement of his weight.
Some of them, besides being large themselves, had other large assets.
In the end, this was the reserve winner, at 416 pounds.
And the grand prize went to "Leonard" the ram, who was 432 pounds. What a big boy!
Did you think I was finished? Nope...not yet!
After that, we went to see the Rambouillet sheep competition.
The Rambouillet breed originated with some Merino sheep exported from Spain and imported into France by Louis XVI. They were improved over time by selection and probably the addition of some native French sheep bloodlines. The breed is also known as the French Merino. The original Spanish Merino breed was lost over time when the Spanish monarchy failed. They have a fine fleece with a staple length of 2.5 to 4 inches, and are prolific breeders.
Again, these are large sheep - just take a look at these ewes! Our mystery sheep are not Rambouillet.
Here is a beautiful ram who won his class.
Sometimes you could see what the sheep seemed to be thinking...."why are you making me do this again?"
Other sheep seemed to enjoy the attention and have a little cuddle with their owners.
That made me all the more happy to finally go home and have a cuddle with Miss Marshmallow. Stay tuned for Day 2 of the fair, which I will write in the next day or so.