Visitors to the Lake County Fair Sunday had a chance for a meat and greet.
Animals you might normally see at the end of a knife and fork were featured in the fair's first "Master Showman" competition, where teens demonstrated their ability to "show" animals to judges who would assess the animal's fitness to provide meat or milk.
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The competition was a bit of a challenge for the five youths. Each specialized in one of the five categories of animals being judged -- swine, sheep, goats, beef and dairy. But all had to be judged on their overall ability to show all five animals' strengths, not just one.
The event was hosted by the Lake County Fair Livestock Committee. The committee's Susie Fisher said the event was something they'd considered doing for a few years, and finally got the sponsorship it needed this year.
"It gets (the teens) out of their comfortable element, of what they're used to showing, and they get to show all of them," Fisher said.
Two of the master showmen were spawned by the Glenview Clovers 4H Club from Wagner Farm in Glenview.
"The kids get an overall knowledge of the animal (and) how it looks best," said Todd Price, one of the Glenview Clovers leaders, whose daughter, Cassidy, competed Sunday.
The teens paraded the animals around a pen, sometimes carrying implements used to guide them or make them stand in a certain way. The group was followed and evaluated by a judge in each round.
During the sheep competition, one of the judges, Wauconda resident Haley White, who works as a massage therapist when she is not judging, walked up to each animal and evaluated its fitness with her hands.
"These animals are being sold for meat," said White, who grew up in the Lake County Country Bumpkins 4H program. "So you go and feel them for their muscle tone. The muscle is what you eat, so if you have a lamb that doesn't have a very good muscle tone, they're not going to be a very good food product."
White said there are other criteria as well, such as whether the animal is sound when it walks or whether it has the correct bone structure.
Todd Price said the Wagner Farm's 4H Club learns many practical lessons. They buy the animals and keep them there all summer long, eventually selling them at auction, with the proceeds -- if there are any -- going back to the 4H program.
"It's getting them ready for life," said Price, a 7th generation farmer originally from Iowa.
Cassidy Price, 14, has been showing since age five. She qualified for Sunday's event in the sheep but has also shown dairy cows.
"It was cool but it was nerve-wracking because it was different," said Cassidy, who plans to study agriculture in college. "I have always wanted to show a pig and steer but I never had a chance until now. It was really different."
The overall winner was Shelby Grinnell of Walworth, Wis., who has shown at the Lake County Fair since she was five and qualified for Sunday's event in the swine category. She won in spite of a stubborn dairy cow.
"She just didn't want to walk," Grinnell said.
The Master Showman competition was part of the final day of the Lake County Fair, held at the Grayslake fairgrounds.