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Fair superintendents make sure competitors care for their animals

August 4, 2018

MITCHELL — Mike Esselstein, one of the rabbit/poultry superintendents at the Scotts Bluff County Fair, spends his days ensuring the 4-Hers competing in rabbit and poultry events take care of their animals.

“We’re making sure that they’re ready for whatever events they’re in,” he said, “whether it’s showmanship or breed or rabbit hopping or whatever.”

The job requires he maintain a balance, since the 4-Hers must take care of their own animals.

“You have to keep a happy medium,” he said. “They’re the kids’ 4-H projects, they’re responsible for it. Us as superintendents and parents, we’re just keeping an eye on them and making sure they’re taking care of their animals, just like any other animal at the fair.”

Some 4-Hers need more help than others. Some are Clover Kids, too young to be proper 4-Hers just yet. Others are older but are competing for the first time. And there are the veterans, who have been working with their animals for years. Part of the work Esselstein does is teach the younger and inexperienced kids. A lot of the work he does is making sure water and food stands and dispensers are properly set up.

“You have to teach them, you have to educate them on how to properly do this stuff, so they can do it themselves,” he said.

Esselstein began working with poultry five years ago when his daughter started showing a chicken and he picked up skills on taking care of both birds and rabbits.

“I’ve been working with the kids since then,” he said.

Rabbits and poultry, he said, are time-sensitive. They have to be fed and watered every day, both first thing in the morning when the barn opens and before the barn is locked up at night. On hot days, the kids have to make sure their animals are being watered throughout the day, and some will bring frozen water bottles to the cages to keep the animals cool.

“I don’t see either one being easier than the other,” he said. “They both take time to work with. But the more the kids work with their animals, the better they interact with them, whether it’s putting them on the table in front of a judge on showmanship day, or how well the rabbits do during the rabbit hop.”

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