If there is such a thing as a goat whisperer, it might be Lana Batek.
The 17-year-old seems to have a calming effect on the notoriously noisy, wonderfully curious animals. She cradled Rose, her 10-week-old dairy goat, in her arms as the mother, Petal, rested in a shed Friday morning at the DuPage County Fair in Wheaton.
“She’s very cold, as you can see now,” Lana said, holding the floppy-eared goat kid. “And she’s very, very sweet and super friendly.”
The bond between Lana and the Nubian mixed-breed goat could impress the judges at Saturday’s 4-H show at the fair. The blue ribbon contests build on family traditions, linking to the county’s farming past and celebrating suburban children who have learned the daily hardships and simple joys of caring for animals.
Living in an unincorporated area of Cook County, Lana raises goats on a Glen Ellyn-area ranch that opens its doors to 4-Hers coming of age in a land of subdivisions and chain stores. It is hard and rewarding work. Lana eased a pregnant goat through labor “without panicking.”
“I’d never done that on my own,” she said of welcoming Rose into the world.
In a nearby shed, at least twice a day, Nora Tobin brushes the wavy mane of her rabbit, King, named for his regal demeanor and breed.
The Lionhead rabbit can earn a fair price with his well-groomed locks. King, or “Kingsley” for formal occasions, likes strawberries and “bunny yoga,” Nora said. That means – pun intended – hopping around as people strike a pose in their St. Charles home.
“He’s the king of the castle,” said Nora’s mother, Eileen Tobin.
Tobin has childhood memories of showing animals with her friends at the fair. Now their kids are in the same 4-H Club, the Whirlybirds. Nora is vice president. The high school freshman-to-be joined 4-H in the third grade.
“I’m proud of her for taking that responsibility so seriously, and she works as an advocate,” Tobin said. “Since she was very young, she would advocate for animal education.”
Novices at the fair, far from agricultural areas, receive training in the barns. Some even confuse Jersey brown cows with “beautiful horses,” dairy farmer Debbie Vaughan said.
In all fairness, Jerseys are like a workhorse that produces milk.
“These girls are gaining about 60 pounds a day,” Vaughan said.
Vaughan and her husband Ron run Century Acres, a 95-year-old farm in Sheridan, 50 miles from the DuPage stock exchange, an institution intertwined with family history.
“This was my husband’s 4-H scholarship in the ’60s,” Vaughan said.
All these years later, the Vaughans are still bringing their cows and a homely feel to the fair. Framed black-and-white family photos and newspaper clippings hang on a wood-paneled display. Flowers in a milk bucket and a painted cowbell complete the charming scene.
“We’re having a great time and meeting a lot of nice people,” said Vaughan.
She has children bottle-feed the two calves and shows how to milk the adult cows at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the three-day funfair.
“They are known for their high butterfat and high protein content,” Vaughan said.
Trade fair visitors pick up that kind of tidbits from 4-H Club members. Lana feeds her goats with hay and grains. Baby Rose, who has settled in at her first funfair, seems to thrive on something else as toddlers gave her a pet.
“I think she likes the attention.”