Lukas Beelow doesn’t experience the Lake County Fair like most people do.
As president of his 4H club – ALL IN AG, the 17-year-old camps out with his family – dad, Duane Beelow, vice president of the Lake County Farm Bureau; mom, Karen Beelow, leader of the ALL IN AG 4H Club and his older sister Breannin Beelow – in their camper at the fairgrounds the entire week of the fair.
During that week, while fairgoers are visiting cows, pigs and horses, Lukas and his family work hard to make sure that all their animals are ready for the daily competitions and for exhibition. The Lake County Fair runs July 25-29. (See pages 24 and 25 for details.)
This year, Lukas is entering two steers, one heifer and seven pigs. His work for this year’s fair really began last September, though, when he picked the animals, then raised and took care of them.
“Nobody really realizes how much work it is having the animals at the fair,” Lukas said.
Almost two weeks before the fair’s commencement, on a scorching day that touched the mid 90s, his steer stood in a grooming shoot while he bathed it at the family’s Mundelein farm.
“Takes me more than an hour to get the animal ready,” Lukas said. “There’s washing, drying, brushing and blowing [the hair] on the steer.”
He’ll have to continue to groom his animals right up to the day of the competition; the judges will want to see an immaculate specimen.
“You blow the hair until it looks like a teddy bear’s fur,” Karen Beelow said.
Any project the 4H members do is one that needs dedication, but “unless you’ve done beef, you don’t have an appreciation. Everyone should do this project,” Karen said.
From the time his steer was a calf, Lukas began grooming it to be a steer suitable for the fair. That means he has to walk it – all 1,350 pounds – with a lead so it learns to follow him. He also had to teach his calf to be comfortable around loud sounds and with people behind her and on her sides touching it.
At the Beelow Farm, the radio is on and it plays in every speaker. It entertains the family but it also mimics the sounds the fair will have.
Lukas has been entering these competitions since he was a young boy. It’s a tradition that’s been passed on to him and his older sister from both of his parents, who have been in the farming business since they were born.
Lukas says he’s learned a lot from his parents. “If you’re more relaxed with the animals, they’re more relaxed with you,” Lukas said as he walked his steer slowly around the farm after finishing the bath.
The ducks, the pigs and the roosters on his farm all watched. Some of them will get to travel to the fair, too.
“We like to take a variety of animals each year,” Karen Beelow said.
This year, a premature calf they named Dalila and have been feeding via a large baby bottle, will get to make its first appearance at the fair. They hope to enter her in a costume contest, although they don’t know what her costume will be.
“We’re taking her to help out the fair attract people,” Karen Beelow said. “Kids love to see the baby animals.”
Lukas doesn’t know if he will win the competitions he’s entered. Aside from the animal ones, which are judged on many factors, including how wide and tall the animal is, Lukas is also entering a visual arts project, a welding project and a food project, all through 4H.
For him, his favorite part of all the fair doings is the culmination of all that hard work during fair week.
“That’s when it’s all over and you get to just get together with your friends,” Lukas Beelow said.
At the end, Lukas and his family will load up their trailers full of equipment and animals and head back to their farm.
The process of choosing a project will begin again in September, because as Karen Beelow puts it, “We live for the fair.”
It’s a life Duane Below describes like this, “I don’t know if fun is the word to use. It’s just something you get in your blood and you love it.”
Duane’s family farm has been in existence for almost 100 years and he remembers getting his animals ready for the fair, too, when he was his son’s age. In fact, it was as a member of the Happy Hayseeds 4H Club when Duane met his wife when they were just kids and then married her when he was 23 years old.
“One of our wedding presents was a calf whose relatives are still around here with us,” Karen Beelow said.
She’s not sure that’s the custom in all farm families, but that’s the way it is with the Beelows.