Country fair all about the animals

BRIDGEWATER — While traditional fair rides, food and shopping were a draw for many families at the Bridgewater Country Fair on Saturday, most agreed the day wasn’t complete without a visit to the animals.

“The animals are the main attraction,” said Mary Jane Fast, of Fairfield, who watched the Junior Dairy Show from the bleachers with her husband. “We love to watch the cows — it’s a tradition that’s being carried on for farmers in Connecticut.”

Like any true country fair, hundreds of cows, pigs, sheep, birds and other farm animals were on display for families to meet. But most had traveled to the fair with their owners not only to greet excited fair-goers, but to compete for top prizes.

The Junior Dairy Show, one of the first livestock judging competitions of the day, brought cows out from their stalls one by one into a paddock where a judge inspected and announced a winner in each breed.

For Cwen Cole, a 15-year-old from Roxbury, the competition was her first time showing a calf — and, it turned out, her first time winning.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Cole said after her 7-month-old brown Swiss calf Frecklez was named the junior champion and grand champion. “(When I won) it was kind of a relief.”

Cole said she was inspired to start showing in livestock competitions while watching a girl who lives on a farm where she works compete and because of her love of the cows. The first show made her excited to come back next year, Cole said.

Other competitors were returning contestants, like 18-year-old Sara Pokrywka, of New Preston, who said

Saturday was her 11th and last time competing in the junior shows. Her 1-year-old cow, Twister, was the runner-up to Frecklez.

Seeing farmers and handlers who live nearby, like Pokrywka and Cole, is typical of most country fairs, said Don Nelson, a judge in the neighboring poultry barn.

A breeder, exhibitor and judge with the American Poultry Association, Nelson said he judges about a dozen of the 20 or so fairs in Connecticut each year.

Most, he said, attract different groups of animals because they are often local to that area. The Bridgewater fair has become one of the bigger livestock competition fairs in the state because there are still a lot of those local farms, he said.

“It’s still rural up here, so it’s not as developed,” Nelson said.

On Saturday, there were about 240 birds to judge, but that number can jump up to 400 in other years. Robert Bernardo, who assisted Nelson, said the low number was probably because of the bad weather.

Nelson, who judges at the Bridgewater fair each year, said he started by showing birds of his own and got certified as a judge because he enjoyed it so much.

“I enjoy seeing the birds,” he said. “There’s a lot of nice chickens, and a lot of nice people, too.”