TURLOCK — While most folks were still snoozing Tuesday morning, the Stanislaus County Fairground bustled with people and animals.
Starting at 4 a.m., bleary-eyed young folks unloaded dairy cows and led them to a shower before making them at home in their stalls for the next few days. Many of them have been showing for years, and they greeted each other like old friends at a reunion.
Wednesday also marked move-in day for the goats, but they got to sleep in a bit as they were set to arrive beginning at 7 a.m.
For the Merriams of Hickman, itwas a family outing: four children, two parents and assorted animals showing for 4-H and the FFA.
Arriving so early gives the cows time to get accustomed to their new surroundings.
"We have to make sure they're settled in, and bathe them and muck out," said 12-year-old Grace Merriam, who went on to explain that "mucking out" is another term for cleaning out the poop.
It makes for long, hot days, but the Merriams were prepared.
"We brought a few card games and stuff," Grace said. Not that there's a ton of downtime. "We all help with each other's cows."
Part of that prep work includes preparing for the competition, which takes place Thursday and Friday. And unlike many of their human counterparts who prefer to look as thin as possible bovine models get extra points for looking fuller. That's accomplished through feeding them beet pulp, Grace said.
A few stalls over, Cheyenne Dejarnett, 16, of Hughson was settling cow Judy into her new digs. Judy was set for a bath and a veterinarian check later in the day. And she also won't be alone for long: "She's going to have a baby," said Cheyenne, who woke up at 3:30 a.m. to get Judy ready.
Trevor McCormick, 16, of the Enochs FFA slept in if you can call it that. He got up at 4:30 a.m.
"And I was late," he said as he scrubbed down his cow, Kennedy.
Avery Martin of Hilmar woke up at 2:30 a.m. after hitting the hay so to speak about 10 p.m.
"It hasn't kicked in yet," she said as she bathed one of the cows she is showing. "But once I'm done washing all these, I'm sure I'll be dead."
The Stanislaus County Fair opens to the public at 5 p.m. Friday. The 46th annual Replacement Heifer Sale is set for that evening at 7.
Bee Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.