GRIDLEY — At 11 years old, Maclin Aschenbrener has extensive experience raising sheep and showing them to potential buyers.
When asked about this year’s lamb, Aschenbrener enthusiastically left the cool breeze from his industrial fan to show the animal he’s spent the past year raising.
“It takes a lot of time and effort,” Aschenbrener said. “You have to give it certain food, give it a certain diet, give it water. And you have to walk it.”
Aschenbrener, who attended the Butte County Fair on Thursday with an animal for the second year, admitted that he was hesitant when he entered the first time but quickly grew to enjoy the work.
“It wasn’t as painful as I thought it was going to be,” he said. “It was a lot easier. It’s pretty fun. I did peewee when I was much smaller, like four and five.”
His appreciation for raising livestock is no coincidence. Aschenbrener’s mother, Mollie Aschenbrener, has been an agriculture educator for about 30 years and has advocated for groups like 4-H because of their impact on children and the skills they provide at a young age.
“It really is more about the kids than it is the livestock,” Mollie Aschenbrener said. “The dedication, the resilience, the responsibility that they gain is really amazing, and we watch that progress into college students, and they’re just so much more successful in school and in their careers because of the dedication that they’ve developed as young people.”
The Butte County Fair opened its gates to the public on Thursday and began its livestock events featuring pens of lambs, pigs, cows, poultry and even rabbits.
In the hour before the gates officially opened, children prepped their animals for showcasing and gave them water to keep them cool against the summer heat. At one point, 15-year-old Danica Butler hopped into the pen with a water bottle to make sure her pigs were well hydrated.
“I found (pigs) to be easy to work with,” Butler said. “They’re fun animals.”
Butler, like many at the event, got into ranching as a family operation. In Butler’s case, her siblings, all the way back to her mother when she was a child, raised animals and showed them at the various fairs. Raising the animals can also be a lucrative investment.
“I’m hoping to make good money when I sell my pig,” Butler said.
Some of the kids opt to break into the industry with smaller critters like hens and rabbits. The furry and feathery little ones had their own canopy and were grouped into rows apart from each other, cuddling and getting sips of water.
Friends Grace Emerson, 13, and Olivia Mattos, 12, each raised rabbits for the fair this year. Emerson said that despite their size, rabbits can eat quite a bit. Grace Emerson’s mom, Julie Emerson, said rabbit temperaments can range drastically depending on the animal.
“Some of them are really soft and sweet, and some of them are very aggressive,” Julie Emerson said.
Mattos, who has done multiple fair events, said she began her animal venture raising a pig and ended up switching to rabbits, though she said it still takes a lot of work.
“You go out there about five times a day just to make sure they are cool enough,” Mattos said. “And also making sure they have enough water.”
Neon “open” signs began to light up at food vendors Thursday afternoon while rides began to rise, fall, twist and spin.
While kids worked with their animals, vendors had begun setting up their displays indoors and outdoors, eagerly awaiting the rush of guests that would soon make their way onto the fairgrounds.
Lisa Roden had put together a special line of snacks in the form of freeze-dried candy.
“Basically, it’s making astronaut food if you’ve ever heard of that,” Roden said. “It’s taking the water out of your food and making something that was chewy now crunchy.”
Roden had an array of candies like Nerds and taffy which had puffed up significantly during the freeze-drying process.
In the booth next to Roden, California Highway Patrol Officer Terry Dunn had put together a stand with information pamphlets for the purpose of community engagement.
“It’s a good way to mingle with the community so that we’re not just out there enforcing laws and things like that,” Dunn said. “We go over a lot of safety topics for kids with bikes, pedestrian safety, new drivers. We also use it as a recruitment tool for the job. We’re always looking for officers so it’s a good place to go to talk to people, answer questions and let them know we’re hiring.”
The Butte County Fair runs through Sunday evening with the carnival opening at 3 p.m. Friday and noon on Saturday and Sunday. Each day, the fair will be open until 11 p.m.
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