Fair Share

Showing beef cattle at the fair can be nerveracking but ‘every year, you’ll get better’

By Sarah Sakurazawa

Dec. 14, 2023

  • Name: Travis VanZanten
  • Age: 15 in 2013
  • Hometown: Lynden, Wash.
  • School: Lynden High School in fall 2022
  • 4-H club: ShowMasters 4-H Club

If you go to the Northwest Washington Fair early in the morning, you’ll see hundreds of kids washing, brushing and grooming their critters (and their pens) so they look their shiniest and prettiest when they show. 

Travis VanZanten of Lynden was one of those exhibitors at the 2013 fair. (There were a total of 1,311 at the 2023 fair.) He’d shown beef cattle at the Northwest Washington Fair for five years when we talked to him. Then heading into his junior year at Lynden High School, where he also played football, he belonged to the ShowMasters 4-H Club. We saw him in action in the barn, at the washrack and in the ring, with his Limousin steer. He says he loves the work and remembers he could hardly wait to be old enough to show.

In this Fair Share, you’ll hear him explain why he thinks Limousins (and their gorgeous glossy coats) are the best, what it’s like to compete against his friends, and a funny fair memory that landed him in the newspaper.  

In this audio Fair Share, Travis VanZanten talks about showing Limousin beef cattle at the 2009 Northwest Washington Fair and shares what can help beginners. 

Produced by Sarah Sakurazawa / Blue Ribbon Stories

Music “I and the Village” by Jan Peters of Whatcom County

In the beef cattle barn, exhibitors blow dry the cattle after they’ve been washed to give their coats more volume. Exhibitors want them to look, well, meatier. That’s important  if they’re going to sell their animal at the market sale because they want more money per pound. One fair mom explained that it takes 30 minutes to an hour to dry an animal, working forward from the butt to add depth and volume. 

The “hair dryers” are two-foot-long blue tubes that resemble cannister vacuum cleaners with extra-long hoses. The cattle are set up in a rack for hairdrying, complete with a feed pan where they can nibble on feed and treats while they’re dried with high-pressure ambient air, not heat. It’s like a beauty parlor for beef cattle!

As luxurious as their glossy sable-brown coat looks, it’s all for a practical purpose: “We want them to look like they’re carrying a lot of carcass,” a 4-H mom said. 

You can learn more about farming in our other Fair Shares – listen in to the fair fun!