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Highlights of the county fair

HORSE SHOW: Merced County Fair Junior Horse Show, 3 p.m., Saturday, July 12, Merced College Arena. Free to the public. It's the first event of the fair before the fair starts. The competition includes Western, English and gymkhana events in a variety of age classes.

WILD WEST TURKEY STAMPEDE RACES: Check out "Gobbler Gulch" and the stable of racing Tom Turkeys. These macho birds put on one side-splitting spectacle as they scramble around a track, gobbling and strutting their stuff, chasing after a custom-built, remote control truck nicknamed, "Big Red." These turkeys aren't running from the Thanksgiving hatchet, they're after the chow on board the truck. On the lawn next to the Black Oak Casino Senior Home Arts Building.

DAILY FUN: Hypnotist Steve Bayner; Jeremy the Juggler, roaming act includes unicycling, juggling, origami , magic and comedy; Funny Birds, singing/dancing parrots; Central Valley Brass; Snuffy's Clowns, strolling attraction features balloon sculpture; Matt "The Maverick" Burton, the strolling magician and An Eccentric Costume character.

IT'S A GAS TO GIVE BLOOD: From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday, July 16. BloodSource will hold a blood drive at the fairgrounds. This year's rewards for donors are really sweet! Not only will they receive a coupon for a free pint of Baskin-Robbins ice cream, but they also will be entered in a drawing to win one of 5 gas cards worth $500 each! And the first 25 people to give blood also will get a free VIP carnival ticket strip good for two free rides at the fair. The bloodmobile will be parked at the Blue Devil Bench Dance Slab near Livestock.

FOOD: Our menu rocks with classic fair fare -- corn dogs, cotton candy, and cinnamon rolls and new items, gelato, Italian ice cream, and a yummy offering that ties in with our sheep theme -- lamb shish kebob sandwiches.

CONTESTS: We've got all sorts -- the "Ugliest Cake" decorating contest, the tallest weed, paper airplanes, wheelbarrow gardens, turkey gobbling and the "Showcase of the Stars" American Idol-like singing competition. There are several "Day of" cooking contests, where competitors turn in their entries the day they're judged. Categories include "Shepherd's Pie," "Salsa," "Chocolate Passion," "Almond Delights" "It's the Cheese" and "Sweet Potato Pie."

OLD MACDONALD'S FARM AND PETTING BARN: Award-winning agricultural education experience with lots of fun hands-on activities kids of all ages are allowed to touch. The fair's theme is "Come Rock With The Flock," and sheep star in many of the exhibits. Find out why sheep rock, romp with the baby animals, check out hatching chicks and newborn pigs and see what a bee colony looks like through a microscope. In the Livestock area.

THE ARTS: Dozens of arts and crafts projects, music activities and a variety of demonstrations at the Mocse Credit Union Fine Arts and Crafts Exhibit Building and Kids' Art Building. Music and dance performances on the Multi-Cultural Arts Stage in Central Park.

GOING GREEN: Green thumbs or not, check out the exhibits, demonstrations and hands-on activities in the Floriculture Building.

KIDS' DAY AT THE FAIR: It's Merced Sun-Star Kids' Day on Wednesday, July 16. That means all kids 12 and under get into the fair free on that day only.

SCHOOL TOURS: From 9 a.m. to noon, Thursday, July 17. Hundreds of kids will take part in this fun, hands-on, behind-the-scenes tour of the fair. Children's groups from area schools, Scouting organizations and summer recreation programs are signed up for the free one-hour tours. The itinerary includes exhibit buildings, the Old MacDonald's Farm and Petting Barn and a sheep shearing demo. The tours are conducted before the fairgrounds opens to the general public, so kids get a chance to experience the farm and exhibit buildings when it's not so crowded.

‘FRIENDS' ROCK: "Friends Helping Friends," Friday, July 18, 9 a.m. to noon. It's our annual day at the fair for our community's special needs kids and adults, and some folks from local convalescent homes in need of a field trip. More than 800 invitees will be treated to a behind-the-scenes tour, lunch, dancing and a mini-rodeo put on by a crew from the Rodeo and Bull Riding events. The fun kicks off across from Old MacDonald's Farm and Petting Barn.

JUNIOR LIVESTOCK AUCTION: Starts at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, July 19, American Ag Credit Nolet Arena. At the 2007 fair, 481 sheep, swine, goats and beef were sold.