Weeding good from baaaaad

Terri Baker eyed a line of dairy goats Wednesday at the Prince William County Fair and made her final decision. The goats – some victorious, some defeated – were led offstage near a packed audience of mostly children.

The goat-judging event at the 54th annual fair drew a mix of 4-H’ers, breeders and curious onlookers as Baker – the event’s sole judge – made quick conclusions and announced winners throughout the contest. The 46-year-old from Keymar, Md., has been critiquing dairy goats since 1977.

Baker, who started out as a 4-H’er in 1973, attained an advanced judging status through years of training. According to Mary Clarke, superintendent of the dairy goats, achieving an advanced judging status takes at least 12 years. Clarke said Baker is considered one of the best judges in the country.

Clarke said that though some high-ranking goat judges generally won’t judge at county fairs, she believes Baker remembers her days as a 4-H’er and enjoys spending time at the fair. Clarke, who lives on a 30-acre farm in Loudoun County, said she has been coming to the country fair since 1969.

“We have a lot of fun with the kids here,” said Clarke, whose 11-year-old granddaughter Ashley Kangis was showing a goat for the first time.

“It was fun,” said Ashley, who clipped and groomed her goat, Sarah Similie.

Clarke, who brought 13 goats to the fair, said that Ashley learned a lot in preparing the 3-month-old Nubian goat for show. The goats, Clarke said, are good family animals.

“They’re very good with children,” she said. “Just like big dogs.”

About 130 goats in all were judged Wednesday for conformation and showmanship. Conformation focuses on the breed type and market desirability of a goat, with special attention to size and skeletal correctness. Subcategories concentrate on certain body parts, such as the head, feet or legs.

Baker said she judges each goat against other competing goats and against scorecards in categories. Both 4-H students and adults presented the animals to Baker, who said that though a goat may not be superior conformation-wise, it can still win in showmanship if the presenters show the animal well.

At goat shows, presenters can win ribbons or cash prizes, depending on the type of show. Exhibitors at the fair said the prize money normally gets put right back into expenses that go toward raising and showing the goats.

Sandy Crum, 12, of Morgan County, W.Va., got her first goat when she was 6 and named it Anne Marie. Sandy, who was showing a black and white spotted Nubian yearling named Polka Dotty, said the main reason she came to the event was for the grand championship.

“It’s really fun to beat people in showmanship, but I mostly came for the fun of it and to see friends,” she said.

The middle-schooler explained that goats are categorized by age and type, and judged in small groups. Sandy said that as Baker judges the goats, she explains the reasoning behind her decisions, making suggestions on how to improve the next time.

Baker told the audience that power and strength was a factor in her decision on one particular winning goat.

4-H’ers and adults alike showed little emotion as they presented the goats at the event, which lasted several hours. Baker said that children tend to take losing much better than adults, but that she has normally worked with fairly calm presenters.

Baker said the County Fair showed off a variety of goats this year. Alpines, Lamanchas, Nubians, Saanens and Recorded Grays (a combination of breeds) were among the goat types. Though she stopped showing goats 10 years ago, Baker said she keeps busy working on her master’s degree thesis and judging occasional goat shows.

Ruth Sousa of Orange County enjoyed the competition and brought her children, ages 15, 8 and 3, to show their goats. She said if her children enter three or four goats, they might expect to win about $100 per show and some ribbons.

Sousa said that’s a lot of money to a child, adding that “the shows teach kids responsibility and gives them something to be proud of.”

She said her children clip, bathe and groom the animals for show, and that the older two know how to pasteurize milk and keep track of goat expenses.

Sousa said she is allergic to the goats and that her children do everything except give the animals their shots.

“It not only teaches them about animals,” she said, “but also about life.”

And where there are those willing to learn, there seem to be those willing to teach. Joy Broaddus, a goat breeder from Orange County, said he looks forward to teaching those who want to learn about the goats.

Broaddus, who brought 50 goats to the fair this year, said Baker is a very capable and qualified judge. Broaddus has lived on a farm all his life and got his start breeding goats when he needed milk. He said he and his wife purchased a goat as an alternative to buying a cow for milk.

“You can’t buy raw milk,” he said, “and I drink raw milk, right or wrong. I did it for the milk.”

Not a fan of pasteurization, Broaddus said as far as he’s concerned, it not only kills the bad “bugs,” but the good ones too.

Also at the goat-judging event, Maria Fini, 15, of Manassas, attended with her 4-H group. The camp counselor said she’s had a lot of fun showing the younger children around and helping them learn about the goats and other animals.

After viewing the goat show, Claire Passero, 7, of Braemar, held Maria’s hand and would only say that her favorite fair activity is “snack.”

And with that they were off to create art out of potatoes in a nearby fair tent.

The Prince William County Fair runs through Saturday.

Tracy Bell can be reached at (703) 878-8058.