Birgitte Theroff, 16, is well versed in chicken anatomy. As a member of the Kanwaka 4-H club, she showed off her knowledge, and won, in poultry showmanship at the Douglas County Fair.
“(Showmanship for chickens) is usually a lot harder than other animals like rabbits or goats because chickens have specific feather groups,” said Birgitte, who lived on a farm since she was 4. “The wing bar, the wing bow, primary flight feathers, secondary flight feathers.”
It gets complicated. Birgitte was among dozens of local and regional youth able to share animal knowledge confidently to a group of judges this week during the 4-H animal shows.
Traveling from Berryton to display her skills — and her birds — Birgitte also won Champion in the barn category for Bean, a 2-year-old black runner duck.
“I definitely didn’t expect to win champion with my duck,” Birgitte said. “Sometimes it’s a little harder because they really like, you know, being in the water all day, and so they can get kind of dirty.”
Judges want runner ducks to stand upright, a standard of the breed, but runner ducks will imitate other breeds, learning to stand at a lean or stoop. To preserve Bean’s natural posture, Birgitte and her family sold their other ducks, which helped Bean win his championship ribbon.
For Birgitte, sharing her knowledge is one of the reasons she loves participating in 4-H.
“I just really like teaching others about poultry, and I think that the poultry project is really good for all 4-Hers and other people to be a part of,” she said.
For her mother, Susan Theroff, 4-H is an opportunity for children to develop and sharpen essential life skills.
“They learn to polish their speaking skills, because they all have to do showmanship of some sort with their animal, talking in front of a judge,” Susan said. “It prepares them for talking to the public as well.”
Sisters Addyson Welch and Evelyn Johnson love the feeling of pride they experience after showing their goats, Murphy and Billy. It’s not pride for the singular moment of display, but for the hours of effort they put forth caring for the animals in the months before.
“It takes a lot of work to be able to train and cooperate with the animal,” Evelyn, 11, said.
Addyson, 17, says the work is well worth it.
“I like the feeling of accomplishment knowing that we got them when they were little. We got to feed them and water them and raise them and really work,” Addyson said. “And then you get to show them and present what you learned. And I feel like — it’s kind of cheesy — but I feel like hard work really pays off.”
One reason Melissa Craig, 16, does 4-H is to give other people a chance to interact with her animals. She displays chickens and a runner duck.
“When I encourage younger kids it keeps on the 4-H tradition and it allows for kids to have fun, get out and interact with animals, something that some kids don’t get that often,” Craig said.
“If (kids) don’t have animals, they can just come here. For 4-H’ers, the whole point is to give people a chance to interact with animals.”
The Douglas County Fair continues through Saturday, July 29 at the fairgrounds, 2120 Harper St. The petting zoo continues from 1 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Building 8.
Other free activities include exhibits, livestock shows, and musical performances. The Wakarusa River Band plays from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday; Small Town Grit plays from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday; Silent Ave plays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday; and Similar Animal plays from 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday.
The demolition derby runs for two nights this year. It starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday in the outdoor arena. Read more about the fair at this link.
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.
Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.