PALMETTO -- Mabel the cow is pregnant and she certainly enjoys the loving care and grooming 13-year-old Buffalo Creek Middle School student and 4-H member Shelby Bryan gives her before the Youth Livestock Program at the 2015 Manatee County Fair opens Thursday at the Manatee County Fairgrounds across from Palmetto High School.
The 1,250-pound heifer received her bath Wednesday afternoon as Shelby, and other 4-H and Future Farmers of America students prepared for an evening of Showmanship Awards followed by the Dairy Show on Friday night where Mabel will be shown along with other heifers, cows and calves.
The theme of the 11-day fair, now in its 99th year, is "Put Some Ag in Your Culture!" It will highlight the vast agricultural industry in Manatee County through livestock shows and auctions for cows, steers,
horses, dogs and dairy goats to poultry, rabbits and swine.
The first featured livestock competition, the Swine Show, a favorite fair tradition, will take place at 6 p.m. opening night in the Mosaic Arena. Clayton Gullet, 10, showing his pig Peanut for the first time, is in line for a showmanship ribbon and ready to make all 258 pounds of Peanut a Manatee County Fair champion.
"Each day, I water my pig, I feed my pig, and I walk around with it. If you go out there every day and do this, the pig will really get to know you and it will respond," Clayton said. He is a young member of the Mighty 4-H'ers of Duette, one of the oldest established clubs in Florida.
"What's nice about spending time in a barn is the kids aren't on social media. Their phones are turned off while they clean their animals and their stalls and do all kinds of fittings. It's very encouraging to see," said Chris Quattlebaum, barn superintendent for the dairy portion of the fair.
While students focus on the rigors of the livestock competition, fairgoers of all ages can engage with well-trained, docile animals from different parts of the world at the Petting Zoo, where goats, llamas, alpacas, cows, a zebra, camel and a wallaby from Australia named Wally will be fed and petted.
"It's real heartwarming when you see young kids come in. They love seeing the animals and it makes us feel like there's a brighter future ahead," said Ed Ellis of Show Me Safari, who will be on hand to answer questions and guide the children and their parents through the zoo.
At the jam-packed Midway presented by Belle City Amusements, a 40-year fair partner, amusement rides abound for thrill seekers ranging from the traditional giant Ferris wheel to rides that spin around and upside down such as Zero Gravity, Ring of Fire and the Zipper.
For a $20 unlimited arm band ($15 Tuesday), fair patrons can experience more than 40 rides, including a large selection for children.
While strolling the fairgrounds, patrons can also enjoy live musical entertainment and shows sure to draw a few laughs such as the Tricky Dog Show, racing pigs and the wolf pack. They can also test their skills in several different racing tournaments and a tractor pedal pull for youngsters.
Information about admission and parking can be found by calling 941-722-8951.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.