If you’ve spent any time at the Grays Harbor County Fair, there’s a good chance you’ve seen goats, pigs, sheep and dairy cows — and even the occasional llama.
You’ve seen these animals paraded in circles, led by children large and small, and lined up as the judges present winners with big, shiny rosettes.
But this is the first year spectators saw contestants show animals in the Highland Cattle Junior Fitting and Showing competition because although such events aren’t uncommon in other areas of the state, this is the first year it’s taken place locally.
Many of the animals shown in Friday afternoon’s event are owned by local farmers Bob and Doris Swalander, who began raising the cattle in 2007 in an effort to bring in more money from the beef. Since then, the business has grown and most of the animals they produce are sold for breeding purposes.
“They’re a good mid-sized cow,” Bob Swalander said. “A cow can reach between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds, and a bull can range from 1,500 to 1,800 pounds. And you don’t need a lot of land (to raise them).”
He explained that 4-H and FFA groups typically steer away from animals with long, sharp horns — like Highland cattle have — but his animals are perfectly safe if handled correctly. He makes his cattle availible to show so that local children can have a chance to work with an animal.
The cattle are also characterized by their fluffy, brown or reddish coats. That’s what drew 10-year-old Yakima resident Jace Ewing to the animals. He and his brothers — Cole Ewing, 15, and Cade Ewing, 13 — have been showing cattle since they were each in diapers. Their grandmother introduced them to cattle showing, and they usually use her animals.
Most of the time the cattle aren’t frightening, Jace Ewing said, but you still need to be careful of their horns.
“You get used to them,” Jace Ewing said. “You have to keep calm. An animal can always tell when you’re scared.”
“But when they get scared, the start bucking,” Cole Ewing added. “They’re animals, so you have to be careful.”
Preparing to show Highland cattle can take anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes, the brothers explained. They use large, metal combs to tidy the animals’ hair, removing pieces of straw and dirt. Jace Ewing said he knows he’s done when the animal’s hair lays down flat and he can run his fingers through without hitting any tangles.
The Swalanders’ nieces — Washougal residents Kayla Lagerquist, 15, and Kelsey Lagerquist, 17 — are newer to cattle showing, but call themselves “cow people” because they built relationships with the animals quickly.
“When you get to know them, they’ve got a personality just like you,” Kayla Lagerquist said. “They really bond with you the same way a dog would.”
Kelsey Lagerquist said she used to show goats, but she prefers cows.
“I’ve always really liked cows,” Kelsey Lagerquist said. “And it’s always so much fun to compete.”