Animals begin arriving for DuPage County Fair

Jaide and Jacie Panek know what it's like to get an early start on the day.

The Batavia teens are up by 6 a.m. most days to start working with their animals. When you're dealing with pigs and cattle, it sometimes feels like you're always feeding or grooming or exercising the livestock.

So Monday was a routine morning for the teens, who were up bright and early at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton to feed their pigs and steers, piece together their pens and prepare themselves and their animals for days of competition at the county fair that officially opens Wednesday and runs through Sunday at 2015 Manchester Road.

The sisters said they spend much of their summer getting ready and then competing in shows, including five county fairs in just five weeks.

“It's a lot of work, I'm not going to lie. There's long hours,” Jaide Panek says. “Most of the time, it's walking (the animals,) cleaning pens, combing (the cow's) hair, washing them, blowing it out. It gets quite hard sometimes.”

Jaide has been raising pigs for 10 years and cows for three, and hopes her experiences in showing and raising the animals will help when she goes on to Joliet Junior College to study agricultural business.

“I don't do sports, so (working with) pigs is just fun,” she says.

As the fair shows gets closer, the pressure grows. When they enter the ring, the exhibitors walk around the arena with their animal and position them so the judges can critique the creatures on their appearance and build.

The exhibitors are competing to win ribbons and the chance to sell their livestock to bidders.

Jacie Panek says it can be a little difficult when you see others who may have better pigs or better steers, and the competitive juices start flowing.

But there's also a great deal of camaraderie.

In fact, getting to hang out with fellow competitors and meet new people who can relate to the challenges of showing animals is another plus for the Paneks.

“They're competing against each other in the show ring, but helping each other outside the ring,” Stephen Haas, a fair volunteer, said. “Everybody's happy for each other.”

The exhibitors also work hard to develop a relationship with their animals so they can work as a team in the ring.

Haas, an Elburn resident who used to be a fair director, says his favorite part of the exhibitions is watching the kids take what he calls an average animal and showing it well in the ring.

“These kids grow with a great sense of work ethic, and they understand what responsibility is,” Haas said. “They understand how helping others helps them.”

Haas met Jaide and Jacie through 4-H, and since they live fairly close, they are always calling to ask for his help.

Even with all his experience with animals. Haas said the fair competitions are still unpredictable.

“You never know (which animal) might be a winner,” Haas says. “It's always interesting to see what the judges will do.”

After all the long hours, Jacie said, it's nice to be recognized in the ring.

“In the end, we don't always win,” she said, “but when we do, that's what makes it worth it.”

  Stephen Haas of Elburn, and Jaide Panek of Batavia, walk up two steers Monday at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton. Bev Horne/
  Some of the animals, including this porker, already have arrived at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton. The fair opens Wednesday. Bev Horne/

DuPage County Fair

<b>When:</b> 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday, July 27, through Sunday, July 31

<b>Where:</b> DuPage County Fairgrounds, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton

<b>Tickets:</b> $10 ages 13 to 61; $4 for children; $5 for seniors; military personnel free with ID

<b>Info:</b> <a href=""></a>

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