IMPERIAL — On opening day of the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta Friday, March 3, the fairgrounds could be found teeming with life. 4-H spectators, supporters, competitors and their livestock set off trotting towards Sperber arena just before sundown to ready themselves for the show. Youth in traditional organization uniform and their four-legged friends huddled at the start gate in anticipation, while others in boots, jeans, and ball caps settled into the stands or around the fence surrounding the arena.
Kicking off this year’s livestock competition was the pygmy goat event, a crowd favorite. This small breed of goat is prized for its gentle and friendly nature, and is often a first choice for beginners looking to pursue raising other kinds of animals. Though some are bred as livestock, many pygmy goats make wonderful pets as well and are considered relatively low maintenance. They are also known to bond with their owner or caretaker quite quickly and socialize extensively with other members of the family. In speaking with Cynthia Paz, the mother of one young competitor, she confirmed that this phenomenon was true.
While rooting for her son Sammy and his first-ever pygmy goat Stella, she said that having a goat in the family has “been an adventure.” “It’s kind of like having a dog,” she said. During winter, the family purchased a crate and kept Stella inside to stay warm throughout the night. It was Sammy’s first time participating in 4-H, and she says he has learned a lot. Sammy has been great at giving Stella food, love, and daily walks, said Paz. Whatever their furry little family member needs, she said, “he’s on it.”
The young competitors and their kids were then lined up and visited by the judge individually. Officiating the pygmy goats category this evening was an experienced woman from San Diego with a background in agricultural science. She went around to each goat feeling for healthy hair, good structure, and a broad chest. Because pygmy goats have such a reputation for being lovely pets, the judge also takes into account good behavior and endearing personality traits which weigh heavily on the outcome. After taking a few steps back, the judge then led a modified rendition of the children’s game Simon Says to test the handlers’ listening skills and basic knowledge of goat anatomy.
For more experienced 4-H club members, showmanship was a bit more extensive. Handlers with goats competing in higher age categories were asked to walk, turn, and still their animals while being evaluated for a greater range of requirements. After several rounds of judging, 12 year-old Ava Dhalliwal and her pygmy goat Dusty emerged victorious.
Dhalliwal is from Holtville and has been with the Verde 4-H group for six years. Her journey raising goats, however, began at the age of two. Elated by the achievement born of years of experience, tears of joy welled up in her eyes as she spoke about how good it felt to win. Smiling ear to ear, she said that though she encountered some challenges while training Dusty, the best part of raising him was bonding through it all.
This year’s pygmy goat winner and seasoned 4-H competitor, Dhalliwal, hopes to continue her winning streak and will be showing a rabbit and feeder calf in the coming days as well.