A row in one of the two cow barns at the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo was once a temporary home for more than 20 dairy cows.
But this year, four docile Jerseys and a calf owned by Dave Cleavenger of Benton City are the sole occupants.
Only a handful of the more than 100 cows entered at the fair this year are dairy. The barns are full of steers and the heifers who will give birth to the next generation of beef.
One reason for the scarcity is money -- prices for beef are fairly good right now, said Kristen Heeter, 12, of Kennewick. She was showing her two Charolais-Angus cows.
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But Cleavenger, who is in his 22nd year at the fair, thinks there's a generation gap. The kids who raised dairy cows in the Rocky Top 4-H Club his children were once part of have all grown up. And new children haven't joined.
Still, Cleavenger is showing cows this year in open class. Two of his grandchildren will show two of his cows, with grandpa's assistance of course. Children can't start showing livestock on their own until age 9, he said.
Granddaughter Chandolin Chopic, 4, of Toledo, Wash., will show Ladybug. And Dyson Quandt, 5, of Burbank, will show Sofia Lynn.
"That's exciting for me," he said.
Fairgoers who drop by the barns can still get the chance to pet a practically newborn calf -- Billy, a Jersey bull born Aug. 14.
Cleavenger's cows will end up at a Mabton dairy owned by a friend, he said. Normally, he will then get the calves his cows give birth to, and raise them for the next year's fair.
But Cleavenger's getting ready to retire from showing dairy cows, he said. He isn't sure if this will be his last year.
Just after sunrise Wednesday, Cleavenger and 4-H and FFA members could be found washing, feeding and watering cows, and of course, cleaning up the barn.
It's a mostly quiet time at the fair, before the ride music begins blaring and the smells of elephant ears and popcorn waft by. Animal sounds dominate, with the cows and swine voicing their opinions to any who care to listen.
All the kids work hard to get chores done by 8 a.m. and keep the cows and the barn clean during the day so fair attendees can enjoy their visit, Cleavenger said.
Sommer Boyd, 18, of Kahlotus, was blow-drying her Hereford cows after spraying them down. Her steer Fredrick will be sold privately, and her heifers Lady and Duchess will give birth to the next set of cows.
Sommer, a member of the Connell FFA and a recent graduate of Connell High School, started showing beef cattle at age 6. Her mother, who also raised cows for beef, helped her start, she said.
This will be Sommer's last year showing at the fair, because she is headed to college at California Polytechnic State University, called Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, Calif. She plans to study ag engineering.
Some of those who visit the cows get intimidated by their size, especially if the cows are standing, Sommer said.
"Even though they are big, they are like little babies," she said of her cows.
Like Sommer, Kristen has raised cows for beef for the past three years. She's a member of Town-N-Country.
"It seemed like fun, and it teaches you responsibility," she said.
Getting up early enough to care for the cows can be hard, especially on cold winter mornings, Kristen said. But the cows need to be fed and checked on.
Her bull calf, Cobolo, was eating enthusiastically, occasionally bumping his head against his mother, Coffee Bean. Because Coffee Bean has a calf, Kristen didn't have to milk her.
"I like milking for the first five minutes," Kristen said. "Then it gets boring."
Cobolo will eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the possibility of snacks, she said.
Coffee Bean is Kristen's first cow. She normally shows a steer, but her steer this year died in early August, she said.
She had to remind her heifer how to act when on halter, and break the calf to halter before the fair. The calf, at 4 months old, was actually easier to train than Coffee Bean, she said.
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