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For some families, showing prized livestock at the Big E is a 3-generation affair

  • Katelyn Poitras, 14, poses with Twix, a Jersey Cow, at the Big E in West Springfield. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Katelyn Poitras, 14, wakes up before 5 a.m. most days to feed and care for animals — like her Jersey Cow, Twix — before school. She’s developed such a strong bond with the livestock she raises that during show weekends, she sometimes sleeps with the cows. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Katelyn Poitras, 14, cares for Jersey Cattle at the Big E in West Springfield. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • “We sit and watch the cows all day. We love it,” said Moira Poitras, above, who began showing livestock through 4-H when she was a child. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Katelyn Poitras — shown washing her Jersey Cow, Bobbie — has been showing livestock since age seven. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Ethan Smith of Illinois shows his Montedale sheep at the Big E. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Matthew Burns — shown trimming the fur of his Ayrshire — traveled from Quebec, Canada to participate in the Big E. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Emmie Hukowicz and her husband hope to pass on their love of animals to 1½-year-old son, Justin, who enjoys feeding their Suffolk sheep. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Justin Hukowicz, 1 ½, sleeps during a livestock competition at the Big E. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • A Jersey Cow at the Big E. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—



@AndyCCastillo
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

It started with 4-H projects when they were both in high school. Now, it’s something that wife and husband Emmie and Andrew Hukowicz, of Hukowicz Farm in Hadley, do together as a family.

“Obviously, when you have an animal who does really well, that’s exciting,” says Emmie Hukowicz. But more exciting is sharing her passion for raising livestock with her 1½ year-old son, Justin.

She was leaning against a sheep pen in the Big E’s Mallory Complex, where dozens of their Suffolk sheep milled about, and looked down at Justin, who was asleep in his stroller. Before he fell asleep, they were both watching Dad — aka Andrew Hukowicz — walk a sheep through its paces in a nearby competition ring.

The judges were looking for good posture, musculature, and frame size, among other preferable traits. Breeding a sheep with those traits requires planning, skill and a knowledge of genetics. Males are selected based on their physical features, and paired with females that complement them. It’s a pastime that requires participation from everyone in the family.

“Justin likes the sheep and helps with feeding,” she said of her son.

But days at the fair are long and tiring, she continues, and, sometimes he needs his grandparents to distract him while she and her husband show sheep.

“He’s pretty great, but it does mean packing extra belongings to make sure he stays entertained,” Hukowicz said.

For the Hukowicz family, who stayed for a week at the West Springfield fair to showcase their sheep, raising Suffolks for competition is a three-generation affair.

Across the ring, Emmie Hukowicz’s mother, Nancy Miniter, worked as an animal inspector. Besides Hukowicz’s husband, the contestants also included her brother and sister-in-law, Nick and Jess Miniter.

Show day culminates a year’s worth of effort, says Moira Poitras, who was also in the Mallory Complex, of her family’s small sheep and cow farm, where they raise young livestock in Brimfield. She was there with her husband, Scott Poitras, and their two daughters, Katelyn, 14, and Madelyn, 6 — along with a half-dozen Jersey Cattle, and some of their Southdown sheep.

On average, Moira Poitras estimated they go to about 14 shows per year, including Northampton’s Three County Fair, the Franklin County Fair, the Cummington Fair and the Big E, where they sleep in an RV parked outside.

“Sometimes it’s chaos,” Poitras said, noting that her husband helps out as often as he can while also working at David Clark, a headset company in Worcester.

Preparation starts in the winter, when the lambs and calves are born. Over the next few months, the newborns need round-the-clock care until March, she says.

Show season kicks off in June and runs through September.

Mostly, that means pampering the cattle every step of the way at their Brimfield home — feeding and cleaning them often; getting them used to harasses; rubbing them down; trimming their fur.

“We sit and watch the cows all day. We love it,” said Poitras, who began showing livestock through the youth organization 4-H when she was a young child. Now, she’s passing her passion for animals along to her own two children. 

For other families, the prospect of staying in a camper for a week and caring for cattle 24/7 might seem daunting. But it’s a bonding experience for the Poitras and Hukowicz families, and others like them.

“I call it my favorite time of the year,” Katelyn said, as she carried an armful of hay to the cows. Since she began showing livestock at around 7 years-old, Katelyn says she’s developed a strong bond with the animals. During show weekends, Katelyn sometimes even sleeps with the cows. This bond is apparent when Katelyn is with Twix, a calf born last September. Twix greets Katelyn with obvious recognition, nuzzling close as she scatters the hay.

As she talked, fans whirred from the ceiling, mingling the smell of manure with the freshness of the hay. The sound of soft lowing from the cattle could be heard above shouts of delight from distant fair rides, and a loudspeaker announcing the winners of a recent show.

These days, Katelyn has taken over most of the responsibilities related to the family’s cows. At home, she wakes up around 4:45 a.m. to complete farm chores, such as feeding and cleaning, before school. After, she works on homework and then tackles more chores before dinner, then more homework, and bed. Staying at the fair provides some respite from her routine because she doesn’t have to wake up until 6 a.m., but it does pose a challenge in terms of keeping up with school. She must either complete work ahead of time, or work with teachers to study remotely. 

While participating so actively in agricultural events has its difficulties, Moira Poitras says it’s worthwhile, and notes that her daughter is learning practical agricultural lessons, and responsibility, in a way that she can’t learn in a classroom.

A few stalls over, Jessica Dizek of Mapleline Farm agreed with Poitras’s sentiments. Of the farm’s 300 cows, Dizek said some are selected each year as show cows. Those are raised and cared for by her children, Austin, 11, Henry, 8, niece, Sophia Zina, 11, and nephew, Jack Zina, 15.

“By the time we get them here, our cows are really acclimated to fair life,” Dizek said. “It gives [the kids] responsibility. Out of all the animals in our herd, those are theirs to care for.”

Beyond teaching responsibility, Dizek said they’ve also developed friendships with other families who show livestock. And while there are plenty of challenges that come with showing animals, the benefits outweigh the difficulties.

It’s all worthwhile “when the kids are motivated for themselves,” Dizek said. “And take care of the animals themselves.”

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.

Agricultural activities take place in the Ma llary Complex at The Big E, which runs through Sunday, Sept. 30.