BROOKSVILLE — With all of the usual attractions — livestock, goods from the kitchen and sewing room, tractor pulls and thrilling rides — plus some new features, the Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show opens today for a nine-day run.
In addition to traditional market steers, swine, rabbits and poultry, the fair is adding dairy cattle to this year's barn and judging lineup for the first time in many years.
"Leaders said they wanted the dairy kids to have a chance to participate," said fair manager Sandra Nicholson.
Eighteen cows will parade before judges at 11 a.m. today and move out in time for their evening milking at home.
"This is only the start," Nicholson explained. "We'll start on (a milking facility) early next year."
Additional livestock judging will include: poultry today, open beef and rabbits Saturday, market swine Wednesday, swine showmanship Thursday, and market steers and beef showmanship April 13.
The market livestock auction of steers, pigs, pens of three meat rabbits and pens of three meat chickens will be at 11 a.m. April 14, with lunch for buyers at 2 p.m. in the barn.
The fair will pay out some $9,800 in prize premiums in competitive events.
Animal attractions at the fairgrounds will feature Mr. Armadillo's Backyard with baby animals daily; a Mutton Bustin' contest on Monday evening, in which youths attempt to ride a sheep for 6 seconds, and a greased pig contest on Tuesday evening, during which youths and adults will compete to catch a slippery swine.
A herd of unusual quadrupeds, camels, will join the farm animals. The ships of the desert are coming from an exotic ranch in Virginia to offer fair-goers rides for $5.
"No age limit," said Nicholson, who intends to mount one, as does entertainment chairwoman Mona Simpson-Premorel.
This year's entertainment lineup includes Miss and Mrs. beauty pageants at noon Saturday, tractor and truck pulls at 6 p.m. Saturday and a demolition derby at 7 p.m. April 14.
Performing daily with new acts will be No Joe's Clown Circus.
The entertainment tent will host escape artist Michael Griffin at 7 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday, and 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Appearing for the first time in Hernando County, Griffin will challenge visitors to come up with escape scenarios for him to attempt.
According to a news release, "The terms of the challenge are simple — if Michael does not make good on his escape from any rational challenge, the person who issued the challenge walks away with $1,000."
Simpson-Premorel said the idea behind inviting Griffin was to offer fair-goers "something different than bands or singers."
But there will be plenty of music, too. The musicians, many local, will perform from 2 to 9 p.m. most days at the entertainment tent.
Food treats on the fairgrounds will range from snacks to full meals — everything from traditional fare such as corn dogs and funnel cakes to fried Oreos, homemade cupcakes and homemade ice cream.
"I'm here nine days, and I could put on a lot of weight," vendor chairwoman Sherry Klimas said.
Other vendors will offer everything from face painting and spray-paint art to woven bracelets, knitted hats and jewelry.
A total of 35 rides will be set up on the grounds — "pretty good for a fair this size," Nicholson said.
North American Rides, which winters at the fairgrounds, is again filling the midway and is adding more kiddie rides.
"We've had so many good comments we want to keep them," Nicholson added.
Tony Diaz, carnival manager, listed the major rides: the Fireball, Gravitation, Bonzai, a giant Ferris wheel, Spin Out, Cliff Hanger, Wave Swinger and Mega Drop.
Of the Mega Drop, which drops 139 feet at a top speed of 150 mph, Nicholson said: "It's my favorite. I can do it after eating a hot dog."
There will be plenty of games on the midway, too, including balloons, basketball and skeet ball.
Organizing and managing the fair requires at least 50 volunteers each day, 100 on big days, Nicholson said.
Only a janitor and maintenance man are paid; an electrician remains on call.
As for her own hours, Nicholson said: "I put in 71.5 hours one week, the next 89.5 hours. After that, the fair was coming and I didn't want to know.
"A lot of people are putting in a lot of free time to make this for everybody," she said.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.