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Young children line up to watch their older peers and mentors clip and fit a heifer before the show at the South Dakota State Fair. (Amanda Radke / Special to Agweek)

State fair gives me hope for the future

I'm slow going this week as I recover from the marathon weekend at the South Dakota State Fair.

As I type this, there is a mountain of laundry waiting for me to do, a scattering of wood chips on the floor of every pickup truck we own and a to-do list a mile long as I play catchup from being out of the office over Labor Day weekend.

In recent years, attending the fair looks a little bit different than in years past. When I was younger, state fairs were a whirlwind of cattle shows, catching up with friends, late nights, early mornings and all the fair food one could squeeze in. (My metabolism and energy doesn't quite compare to the 18-year old me these days!)

These days, with three kids under the age of 5, the state fair looks a lot like diaper changes on the show box, naps in the camper, dusting off dirty baby Wranglers after a tumble, wiping away tears after the last sip of the strawberry milkshake are gone, convincing kids that petting the goats and pigs is more fun than riding the ferris wheel and keeping our traveling circus in line as we attempt to watch livestock shows and connect with old friends.

In some ways, it would be a lot easier to leave the kids home and go conquer the fair on our own. Yet, seeing our kids take in the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the fair is reason enough to weather the parenting battles and have hope for the future.

Our oldest daughter, Scarlett (age 5), is becoming increasingly interested in the show ring. She would focus her attention on the older girls in the ring, pointing out their pink show sticks or their cute blingy belts with admiration. As she watched, I would explain to her how the girls were setting up their calves, how they watched the judge or how they turned the calf to line them up in class.

Meanwhile, our boys, Thorne (age 3) and Croix (15 months), are very interested in fitting and clipping. I was surprised to watch as our youngest observed someone blow-drying a calf across the aisle. With confidence, Croix then grabbed the blower at our stall, picked it up and pointed it at our bull calves on display.

And after our clipper broke before the Limousin show and we purchased a new one, Thorne acted like it was Christmas morning as he unboxed the new clipper. This week, he even asked me if he could skip school to "clip some calves." Imagine his disappointment when I told him it would have to wait until after class.

This year was extra special for our family as we exhibited the Reserve Champion Limousin Bull at the South Dakota State Fair. The bull was named "Big Jim," and what made the win special was that he is puppy tame and allowed all three kids to work on him, play with him and learn the ropes of showing and exhibiting cattle.

Soon, our kids will be leading the charge and telling Mom and Dad to step back and let them get to work. I look forward to that day and am excited about their enthusiasm.

Showing cattle has always been a fun pastime for our family. At this year's state fair, we had four generations attending the event. Anytime an activity incorporates family, friends, agriculture, hard work and fun, I'm all about it as a parent!

So even as the laundry, vacuuming, unpacking and catchup work stares me down today, I'm hopeful for the future of agriculture and the future of our family's cattle operation. Our family isn't unique in enjoying the state fair — my social media feed is filled with smiling families taking in state fairs across the country as they made memories, connected with friends and celebrated the nation's farmers and ranchers.

Radke raises Limousin and Maine Anjou cattle alongside her husband Tyler, and she's the author of the children's books, "Levi's Lost Calf" and “Can-Do Cowkids.” Follow her on Facebook at @RadkeCattleCo.