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Young 4-H exhibitors wrangle rabbits, chickens and geese at Washington County Fairs

Caitlin Rademacher, 18, of Oakdale transports a feisty goose to its cage at last week's Washington County Fair. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler) 1 / 2
Joe Verdick, 13, of Cottage Grove holds Russell, his Mini Lop rabbit, during an examination by officials at the Washington County Fair.2 / 2

Say this about rabbits: They’re quiet.

Geese, hens, roosters and ducks? Not so much.

The load-in for the poultry and rabbit judging at last week’s Washington County Fair was a study in contrasts: peaceful at one end of the building, pandemonium at the other.

It was a bit like college move-in day, with parents and kids lugging cages and crates from vehicles in the sweltering heat.

Russell and Ellie made nary a sound as Joe Verdick, 13, of Cottage Grove placed each on the rabbit registration table for examination by judges. After a gender check to confirm that Russell is a buck and Ellie is a doe, each rabbit received an identification tattoo on its left ear.

The pair are mini lops, one of the smallest of the bunny breed, Verdick explained. He’ll show the two in Division H, Four Class.

The mood at the opposite end of the building was decidedly fowl.

Caitlin Rademacher, 18, of Oakdale had nearly three dozen geese, hens and roosters entered into various classes in the 4-H poultry competition. And just about every one of them made it plain that they would rather be somewhere else. As fast as she opened one crate, removed a bird and placed it in its assigned cage, two more would appear on the floor as family members brought them in.

The geese protested the loudest and fought the hardest as Rademacher wrangled them into their cages.

“You just have to know how to hold them,” said the exhausted teen.

Her friend Lauren Pendar of Cottage Grove tended to her ducks, Kevin and Calvin. The pair are  blue fawn call ducks. They and their handler are both making their 4-H debut.

“I wanted to raise pigs, but we didn’t have the space,” said Pendar, 15. “I’ve always thought ducks were cute. When my dad came up with the idea I was all for it.”

Meanwhile, back in the Bunny Barn, Joe Verdick explained the rabbit judging process.

During the competition, he said, judges will examine Russell and Ellie for blemishes, tumors, mismatched eye color or crooked legs — defects that could result in disqualification.

They’ll also quiz their exhibitor on what he learned during his caring for the rabbits, which is a key component of 4-H. He might be required to know his rabbit anatomy, including veterinary terms for each part of the animal, such as dewlap, shoulder, front and flank.

“They’ll ask about the knowledge we have of the specific breed,” Verdick said.

Joe and his sister Grace, 15, also had several chickens entered in 4-H. Joe and Grace would go on to win reserve champion and grand champion, respectively, for one of their egg-producing “layers.”

Parents Jim and Heather Verdick are active in the Country Cousins 4-H Club, which comprises families from Cottage Grove and Woodbury.

“I was in Washington County 4-H. My dad was in Washington County 4-H. My kids didn’t have a choice,” Heather Verdick joked.

“It’s one of the few things you can all do together as a family.”

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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