Sheep, Chicks and Geese Scurry at the County Fair

As photographer Dan Nelken has catalogued, the county fair is the place for family farms to showcase their prized livestock

(Maura McCarthy)


Schoharie County Sunshine Fair 2001
(Maura McCarthy)

Over the course of his project, Nelken was struck by how children would spend months caring for their animals while fully realizing that their wards could soon be dead, either slaughtered or by accident.

At the 2001 Schoharie County Fair, Nelken heard a girl talking about her pet rabbit. Like most subjects, she was very accommodating and agreed to be photographed. The following year he came back and showed her this photo and asked about her champion rabbit. “Oh it died,” she said matter-of-factly. “It broke its leg because my dog was chasing it.”

Another young pig farmer told Nelken that he calls his hogs “Thing 1” or “Thing 2” because he knows that they will almost certainly end up being butchered.

The owners of prize-winning animals have the option to put their livestock up for auction at the end of the fair; it’s the only compensation they get for all their work. The animals are sold for either breeding purposes or meat, and if they aren’t bid on or put up for auction, the owners might keep them for the next year’s fair.


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