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For most people, the Napa Town & Country Fair will return at noon Wednesday. But the gates of the Napa Valley Expo opened early for a select group of children and teenagers – as well as the farm animals who, with their owners, will command the fair’s top billing at the Junior Livestock Auction.

On an otherwise quiet Sunday morning in Napa, the fairground was a hive of activity where trucks pulled up near a covered pavilion to disgorge beef and dairy cattle, goats, sheep and hogs. A hamlet of RVs accumulated for contestants and families settling in for six days of preparation; under the pavilion roof, placards marked the names of boys and girls, and their FFA or 4-H clubs, while the warbling of goats echoed from all parts of the canopied space.

Pig owners urged their sometimes unwilling, struggling entrants into the pavilion, past an aromatic hillock of wood shavings that would carpet the dozens of animal pens through the auction on Saturday. And rumbling from seemingly all directions was a constant, rumbling lowing of steers and heifers, more than 40 cattle in all.

Two of those cattle arrived shortly after 10 a.m. – a steer and a breeding heifer raised by 19-year-old Tristan Martin of Lake Berryessa, who also was entering a lamb and three dairy goats in his fifth and final auction.

Like others arriving on Sunday, Martin was carrying on a family tradition of animal husbandry guided by 4-H and FFA clubs across the Napa Valley – “My mom raised them when I was a kid, so it’s always been a part of my life,” he said – and credited the work with instilling an early sense of discipline and hard work.

“It’s taught me responsibility, record keeping, animal care, leadership – everything,” said Martin while guiding Dave, the cream-colored steer, and the black heifer Monopoly’s Perfection off a trailer and toward their quarters on the edge of the pavilion building.

Sunday marked the start of a busy week for those entering the auction, which begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, the fourth day of the Town & Country Fair’s five-day schedule. After the weighing of livestock Monday morning, showmanship classes and tests are scheduled for various classes of animals, from dairy and pygmy goats to hogs to steers and heifers.

As of Sunday, more than 300 animals – including 170 goats, 108 sheep, 37 beef cattle and five dairy cattle – from 248 exhibitors were scheduled to appear at the livestock auction, according to Joe Anderson, chief executive of the Expo.

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The countdown to auction day will be simply the last step in a long-running juggling act for Hannah Madole, a 17-year-old Lake Berryessa resident who has been raising three pigs and two goats for the event since March and a steer since November. After spending four hours a day tending to the steer, and an hour for each of the smaller animals, she was about to embark on a tight routine of feeding and walking – along with a last round of training her livestock to walk and sit on command, and grooming that would include soap, conditioner and blow-drying for the steer.

“It’s about time management – having to split your time between your animals, responsibility to make sure they’re all fed, discipline to know what to do and what not to do,” said Madole, who has entered livestock at the Napa fair from the age of 5.

Intensive though animal raising can be, the physical welfare of livestock is only part of the road to auction success, another entrant said Sunday.

Angelina Bruno was entering Tublanca the heifer, Garth the steer and Levi the breeding bull calf. But before setting foot at the Expo, the 17-year-old Lake Berryessa resident also had composed a two-page letter to would-be buyers highlighting her awards for raising cattle and pigs during eight summers at the Napa auction.

“Most of my buyers go for good-quality beef cattle – that’s what I like to raise and that’s what I want to raise for the rest of my life,” said Bruno, who took first price in the auction’s steer carcass contest a year ago.

Following the Junior Livestock Auction, many beef cattle are put on trailers for slaughter outside of Napa County before being returned to Napa for local processing, she said, although Bruno planned to feed her animals further because “there’s a lot of stress from being at the fair” that otherwise would impair the quality of their meat.

“No matter what else you’ve got going on, the animals have got to eat,” she said. “That’s what you’ve signed up for, and that’s what you’ve got to do.”

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.