The dairy barns at the Merced County Fairgrounds, normally filled with black and white Holsteins and fawn-colored Jerseys, are strangely empty this year.
Many of the 4-H and FFA students who would have shown dairy replacement heifers at this year's fair are instead selling their heifers privately and bypassing the fair.
But selling the heifers and bypassing the fair wasn't what students had planned. They held their entries back because of a new rule about tuberculosis testing.
The Merced County Fair is requiring that all dairy replacement heifers be tested for TB before they are allowed on the grounds.
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There were 306 heifers originally entered in this year's fair, but only 50 showed up.
The students and their leaders who worked hard for the past two years aren't necessarily against testing, they just want it to be fair.
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Carter Luxon, coordinator for the dairy heifer replacement program in Merced County, said that it's only replacement heifers that were required to be tested. And the mandatory testing for the heifers wasn't told to the students and leaders until last week.
"I had talked to Robin (Hauck, the chief executive officer of the fair) and she told me that no testing would be required," Luxon said.
But that changed last Wednesday when the replacement heifer project students were told they had to have their heifers tested.
"No other cattle are being tested, just heifers," Luxon said. "What if untested cattle come onto the fairgrounds with TB?"
Diane Booth Conway, spokeswoman for the fair, said the fair is trying to act responsibly.
"This testing isn't mandatory now for fairs, but that could change," she said, adding that the dairy heifer replacement sale will not be held at the fair this year.
Kasidi Barcellos is one of the 4-H students who did bring her heifers to the fair, but she knows a lot of students who aren't participating this year. "There were about 60 kids who didn't come just because of the testing," the 13-year-old Hilmar 4-H member said.
Kasidi's mother, Jackie Barcellos, said the heifers her daughter brought to the fair will go home to their own dairy and not be sold at the fair's livestock auction.
Jaimie Mancebo, 17, is a member of the Dos Palos FFA and has been showing at the fair for nine years.
"It's kind of weird not to have the competition. I actually didn't bring four of my heifers," she said. The animals Mancebo brought to the fair will go home to her family's dairy.
Luxon said that although the students were disappointed at not participating in the fair, all of the project heifers had been sold privately to dairies.
"This testing wasn't required by the state," Luxon said. "So we pulled out."
Mancebo said that although the rule has caused some problems this year, she doesn't think it's a bad rule.
"I think that all of the cattle should be tested, not just the heifers," she said.
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
THEME: "Come rock with the flock"
ADMISSION: Adults and teens are $8, children 6 to 12 are $3, children under 5 are free.
HOURS: 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
HIGHLIGHTS: Auto racing, 7 p.m. in the grandstand; Craig Morgan, 9 p.m. in the outdoor theater. Shows are free with fair admission.
WHERE: 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Merced
A more detailed fair schedule can be found on page B2.