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Grand Champions aplenty at contest
Times photo: Brenda Steurer Caleb Ahrens, 16, Brodhead, shows off his Grand Champion steer at the Green County Fair Saturday. Ahrens, a member of Monroe FFA, said hes had the steer for several months and spent a lot of time getting it ready for the fair. Work for next year begins Monday, he said.
MONROE - It takes a lot to be a grand champion.

But hair conditioner?

Caleb Ahrens' steer earned Grand Champion honors at the Green County Fair. The 16-year-old from Brodhead has learned a few "tricks of the trade" since he first started to show animals at the fair.

One of them includes using hair conditioner on his steer's fur.

"It makes its hair softer and it makes him look better," Ahrens said.

Making his steer look better includes more than just shampooing it. Ahrens has also learned if the animal is rinsed off it stays cooler, which makes the steer look better for the judges.

For the past several months Ahrens worked with the steer to get it ready for the fair. He made sure it ate the right foods and got exercise to make it stronger.

The hard work paid off.

He was surprised when his steer earned the top prize at the fair.

"I didn't know what would happen (when the fair began)," Ahrens said.

He could take his steer to the state fair but he decided to sell it Saturday at the auction. He knows the steer will be slaughtered after it's sold; he admitted that's a difficult thing to think about.

"He'll be the toughest one we've sold," Ahrens said as he looked at the steer. "You get attached to them."

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Dan Lattin, 13, Browntown, had the Grand Champion duck at the fair, and also had $375 to show for it. The feather auction was finished and his champion duck sold for a pretty good price, he said.

This was Lattin's first time at the fair. His duck came from a family that raised Grand Champions in the past so he was almost expecting to do well at the fair. But it was his first time and he was surprised to actually win such a high honor.

It was easy to see he was proud of his accomplishment.

"We buy them early and feed them well," Lattin said, a broad smile across his face.

How well the ducks do have nothing to do with color, he explained. His ducks did well because they were filled out well in front.

Lattin worked with the ducks since March. Next year he plans to get a few more for another effort at the fair.

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Grand Champion is the highest honor an animal can win, but first place is also something to be happy about.

Kevin Mansfield, 18, Juda, took first place for his pig.

He got the pig in April and fattened him up for the fair.

There's a few secrets to winning a blue ribbon, he said.

"You have to walk with them so when they walk in front of the judges, they look good," he said. A pig that seldom walks with its owner is difficult to control and the judges can mark the pigs down for that, he added.

A well-trained pig will respond to a tap on the side with a cane, he said.

The pigs also have to be muscular and it's worth a few more points if the pig is shaved.

There is one other secret, he said.

"Some people put mayonnaise on the pigs to make their skin shine," he laughed. "I don't do that."

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Erin Kloepping, 11, Brodhead, was excited to be showing sheep at her first fair.

She had the sheep at her house since May and her grandparents, Bruce and Carol Kloepping helped her get them ready for the fair, said Amanda, Erin's mother.

"We had a pen behind the shed," Erin added.

Erin fed and walked the sheep.

"She was very responsible," Amanda said.

Erin said she had fun at the fair and learned an important lesson while showing her sheep.

"Don't step on their feet" when leading them around the barn, she said.