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Ribbons galore: More people entering dairy cows and goats at fair

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Katie and Clint Bannister of Florence went home with championship ribbons for their goats. The two also did very well in the other classes they entered.

Katie Bannister’s sport of choice doesn’t happen in a gymnasium, outdoor track or ballpark.

“4H is my sport,” said the sharply dressed young Florence girl while keeping a tight rein on her milk goat. “I spend a lot of hours every week working on it.”

All that effort paid off this past week, with a handful of championship ribbons in equine, goat and dairy cow events at the Ravalli County Fair.

Bannister and her brother, Clint, were members of the growing cadre of Bitterroot Valley livestock producers who turned their sights this year on raising dairy cows and goats.

“There were a lot of new people in the goat and dairy barns at the fair,” said their mother, BJ. “Those two areas just exploded this year.”

Heidi Marten serves as superintendent of the fair’s dairy barn.

“We went from nine cows last year to 21 this year,” Marten said. “A lot of the kids who entered this year were really young. I think it could be a trend that lasts for a while.”

There are probably a few different reasons behind that.

Compared to those who opt to raise and sell a steer, lamb or pig at auction the same year, youngsters who decide to raise a dairy cow are in it for the long run.

Dairy calves are usually obtained when they are as young as two or three days old and then fed with a bottle until they’re old enough to switch over to hay and grain.

“The calves are a lot smaller to begin with,” Marten said. “I think that makes it a little easier for the younger kids to handle them.”

The youngsters keep their calves until they are old enough to breed, which is about two years. The bred heifers are sold at the fair auction, with the idea they’ll produce a calf within 90 days of the sale.

The bred heifers are often purchased by local dairymen to be incorporated into their herds.

Marten’s son has been through the process.

“He’s spent a couple of years raising the cow,” she said “He likes to know that she’s not going to end up in someone’s freezer.”

Along the way, Marten said the young livestock producers learn quite a lot on a variety of topics.

“They have to keep feed records and so they learn about how much a project like this costs,” she said. “They learn how to tell when an animal is in heat and then have to decide if they’ll have it AIed (artificially inseminated) or turn it in with the herd bull.”

“They learn about vaccinations and how to interview with the judges,” Marten said. “And they have to market their own cows and so they send out flyers to potential buyers.”

The cattle are sold at the annual auction that happened Saturday morning at the fair.

“We always hope that beef prices will be high,” she said.

The education that 4H has to offer is one of the reasons that Katie Bannister continues to come back year after year.

“I’ve learned a lot about how to take care of animals, but there’s a lot more to it than just that,” she said. “You have to know a lot about the animals when it comes time to talk with the judges. I’m getting a lot better at the interviews and a lot more comfortable.

“That’s a great life skill that I can take with me,” Bannister said. “I’ve learned what to do when things go wrong. That’s another important life skill.”

But 4H is more than that even.

“It’s such a fun experience too,” she said. “Every year at the fair, we put all of our wagons up in a circle and spend a lot of time together. We’re just one big family.”

“I know when I grow up and if I have kids, I’m going to want to have them in 4H,” Bannister said. “They would miss out on so much if they weren’t.”

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at


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