WAUSAU, Wis. - While weaving through the countless barns and animal pens at Marathon Park, it's plain to see 4-H members from all over central Wisconsin with their exhibit animals. Take a closer look, and you'll spot brushes, skin and hair oil, nail clippers, scissors and blow-dryers.
It's not a beauty salon, but for animals and their owners, the annual Wisconsin Valley Fair in Wausau is a time to show off, and that means a lot of effort to look good, Daily Herald Media reported.
Brianna Hackbarth, 18, of Merrill spent at least an hour one day grooming her beef steer before showing it in showmanship and carcass classes at the fair.
She used a product similar to hairspray, called adhesive, that comes in an aerosol can and helps the steer's hair look longer, and the steer itself look bigger and meatier. While spraying the adhesive onto its hair, Brianna used a wire brush to comb the hair up and make it stand straight. After she finished brushing the steer, she used a shop vacuum to blow air onto the hair and set it in place.
"We want him to look bigger on his hindquarters, where we get the meat from," she said. "We also use oil on his hair to make him shine and look presentable."
The comb, Brianna said, irritates the steer's skin and helps its hair grow. She bathes him at least once daily, sometimes twice. Other cattle groomers at the fair also used electric razors to trim hair along the spines of younger calves.
"People don't realize how much work goes into making him look good out there (during shows)," she said. "It's time consuming and can be stressful."
Robert Wincentsen, 13, has been showing chickens at the Wisconsin Valley Fair for five years. Before the chickens even arrive at the fair, they go through a four-step bathing process.
First, Robert washes the chickens with a dog flea and tick shampoo, then dunks them in a product called bortine that helps to remove dirt from their feathers. The third step in the process is a bath of vinegar and water, then a clear water rinse to finish.
Once the chickens arrive at the fair, they get their nails and beaks clipped with a nail clippers, followed by cleaning touch-ups with towels dampened with rubbing alcohol. Robert said he also uses a shine oil made for horses to shine the chickens' beaks and combs.
Grace McGrath, 14, of Eland, shows pigs at several fairs each summer. She said she doesn't use any products on her pigs.
"I want her to look normal and natural," she said. "It's more important for me how she performs and handles with me than how she looks."
Grace said right before she shows her pig, she washes her with a quick water bath, or will use a spray bottle between washes to remove dirt. Sometimes, she uses Dawn dish soap for tough, dried-on dirt.
"She looks just as nice as some of the pigs with oils on her when she's a little damp with water," Grace said.
On the subject of horse grooming at the fair, Megan Frahm considers herself an expert. The 17-year-old from Athens showed two horses on a single day at the fair in Western and English classes. It typically takes her about three hours to groom the horses from start to finish.
Megan said she trims hair around her horses' face, feet and ears using scissors, and uses razors from the drugstore to trim their whiskers. She also uses tea tree oil on the horses' dry skin to make their hair soft to the touch.
For her dark-haired horses, she uses a darkening shampoo to keep their coats true to color.
"Their hair, if it's black, fades out in the summer when they sweat and the sun turns it light and red," she said. "It's important for them to look good, it's part of the judging process, and it's a point of pride for me as an owner."