Best in show: 4-H kids and their animals compete for blue ribbons at DuPage County Fair
If there's such a thing as a goat whisperer, Lana Batek may be it.
The 17-year-old seems to have a calming effect on the notoriously rowdy, delightfully curious animals. She cradled Rose, her 10-week-old dairy goat, in her arms while the mother, Petal, rested in a barn Friday morning at the DuPage County Fair in Wheaton.
"She's very chill, as you can tell right now," Lana said, holding the floppy-eared goat kid. "And she's very, very sweet and super friendly."
The bond between Lana and the Nubian mixed breed goat may impress the judges in the fair's 4-H show Saturday. The blue ribbon competitions build on family traditions, maintain a link to the county's farming past and celebrate suburban kids who've learned the daily rigors and simple joys of caring for animals.
Lana lives in an unincorporated area of Cook County and raises goats at a Glen Ellyn-area farm that opens its doors to 4-Hers coming of age in a land of subdivisions and big-box stores. It's hard and rewarding work. Lana eased a pregnant goat through labor "without panicking."
"I had never done that by myself before," she said of welcoming Rose into the world.
In a nearby barn, at least twice a day, Nora Tobin brushes the flowing mane of her rabbit, King, named for his regal bearing and breed.
The Lionhead rabbit may earn a county fair prize with his well-groomed locks. King, or "Kingsley" for formal occasions, likes strawberries and "bunny yoga," Nora said. That entails -- pun intended -- hopping around while the humans strike a pose in their St. Charles home.
"He's king of the castle," Nora's mom, Eileen Tobin, said.
Tobin has childhood memories of showing animals with her friends at the county fair. Now, their kids are in the same 4-H Club, the Whirlybirds. Nora is vice president. The soon-to-be high school freshman joined 4-H in the third grade.
"I'm proud of her for taking that responsibility so seriously, and she works as an advocate," Tobin said. "Since she was really young, she would advocate for animal education."
County fair newbies far removed from agricultural areas are getting an education in the barns. Some even mistake brown Jersey cows for "nice horses," dairy farmer Debbie Vaughan said.
In all fairness, Jerseys are a kind of workhorse producing milk.
"These girls get about 60 pounds a day, each one," Vaughan said.
Vaughan and her husband, Ron, run Century Acres, a 95-year-old farm in Sheridan, some 50 miles from the DuPage fair, an institution intertwined with family history.
"This was my husband's 4-H fair in the '60s," Vaughan said.
All these years later, the Vaughans still bring their cows and a homey feel to the fair. Framed black-and-white family pictures and newspaper clippings hang on a wood-paneled display. Flowers in a dairy pail and a painted cow bell complete the charming scene.
"We're having a really good time, and we're meeting a lot of nice people," Vaughan said.
She lets kids bottle-feed the two calves and shows how to milk the adult cows at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the three-day run of the fair.
"They're known for their high butterfat and high protein," Vaughan said.
Fair visitors will pick up tidbits like that from 4-H Club members. Lana feeds her goats hay and pelleted grain. Settling into her first fair, baby Rose appears to be thriving on something else as toddlers gave her a pet.
"I think she likes the attention."