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Monday, Oct. 23, 2017

A Girl and Her Goats

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Ah, the life of a high school senior. Sleeping in. Driving. Socializing. Playing sports. It’s a great life.

At least, that’s what Stacey Baker hears. She does drive to school. But that’s one of the few things Baker and her fellow C.E. Byrd students have in common.

And that’s just fine with Baker. Sure, there are times the 17-year-old wishes she didn’t have to set her alarm clock for 5:15 a.m. Sure, there are times she wishes she could go to all of her school’s football games.

But when the livestock show announcer calls Baker’s name as the winner, and when a judge pins the first-place ribbon on Baker’s shirt, those wishes fade away.

“I just have to keep thinking that I have my priorities in line, and I’m doing what I love to do,” Baker said. “Would I rather go to a ball game or do something that’s actually going to better my future?” Baker, who plans on going to veterinarian school, will be one of an anticipated 4,000 young women and men competing in the livestock show at this year’s State Fair of Louisiana. The fair will run Oct. 26-Nov. 12 (closed Mondays and Tuesdays). For admission costs, as well as a complete schedule of events, you may visit www.statefairoflouisiana.com.

Baker’s animal of choice is the goat, although that wasn’t her first choice.

“Lambs were not for me at all,” Baker recalls. “They were just kind of dumb. They didn’t work with me. They didn’t want to do anything.”

But with the goats, Baker has the magic touch.

“People always tell me I’m the goat-whisperer, because if somebody has a goat that’s acting wrong and they hand it to me, it starts acting right.”

In this year’s livestock show, Baker will enter five goats which she raises and trains seven days a week, 365 days a year. Rain or shine. Cold or hot.

“I wake up, put boots on and go straight outside,” Baker says of her morning ritual, which includes feeding her goats and making sure they have clean water. The colder it gets, the more time it takes before Baker can get back in the warmth of her home.

“Sometimes when we have a really cold winter, you have to break up the (frozen) water in the morning, so that takes longer.”And Baker’s day is just getting started. After a full day of school, she heads to work at the Caddo Parish School Board’s Teacher Resource Center. There, Baker puts in four hours a day, four days a week – and fi ve hours on Saturday. Then it’s back home to train her goats.“On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I have to take my largest two goats and put them behind the four-wheeler and run them – that’s their exercise,” Baker said. “The mar-ket goats, (the judges) look at their muscles, so you have to exercise them a lot.
Tuesday and Thursday, I work the little ones. The little ones, you’re just teaching them how to walk and what to do in the ring. I just have to put them on collars and get them used to it and walk ’em around and everything.”It’s usually at least 8 p.m. when Baker fi nishes, but she still has to eat and do home-work. She gets to bed around 10:30.“You get out of it what you put into it,” Baker says. “I’ve poured a lot of time and ef-fort into it, and I’m really seeing the results.
I’ve won just about every show I’ve gone to this year, so it’s been really good to see the rewards that you get out of it when you put your time and effort into it.”“They have to be dedicated to their ani-mals,” said Mohamed Shamsie, in his 17th year as the fair’s livestock manager.
“We tell these kids you can have the best animal in the world, all the money in the world, and buy a real expensive animal. But if you don’t work hard with them, you will not win.”You may be surprised to know that back in the day, it was livestock—not carnival rides or games of chance—that was the catalyst for the State Fair and other fairs across the country.“
The reason fairs were formed were for farmers and ranchers to be able to come together to swap ideas, talk about best practices to use on the farm, and how to combat against the boll weevils that were eating the crops,” said Chris Giordano, now in his 12th year as president and general manager of the State Fair of Louisiana.
 “It was also a place to bring their animals and prepare them for market. Most agricultural fairs grew into the amusement parks they are today.”In addition to Louisiana’s largest livestock show, the 123rd edition of the State Fair will feature everything you’ve come to enjoy, including rides, food, musical entertainment and a rodeo.
In other words, everything you need to make “Memories on the Midway,” which just happens to be the theme of this year’s fair.“We want to have people refl ect back on their memories of going to the fair when they were children and pass on the tradition to their children and grandchildren today,” Giordano said. “I hear so many stories where maybe a husband and wife met at the State Fair, or their fi rst date was at the State Fair.”As always, the unmistakable aroma of fair food will hover over the State Fairgrounds. You will fi nd traditional food, such as cot-ton candy, corn dogs and funnel cakes. But you will also be tempted to taste items such as deep-fried bread pudding, fried wa-termelon, and a cricket, scorpion and worm pizza.“They actually buy their bugs out of California,” Giordano said of the concession-aire, Swain’s Pizza-on-a-Stick. “They are ed-ible bugs, prepared for human consumption.”If you’re still reading, the fair will feature a variety of free musical en-tertainment.
Among the highlights:
• Pokey Bear, whom allmusic.com describes as a “Southern bluesman from Baton Rouge whose feel-good bayou soul keeps parties moving.”
• The Bigg Robb Show, featuring the artist Bigg Robb, who is described by allmusic.com as “embracing Midwest funk, Southern soul and gospel.”
• A Tribute to Music Royalty featuring Bob-by Miller as Michael Jackson and Prince, with special guest Timeless Tina (Turner). Of Miller, Giordano said, “he looks and sounds exactly like Michael Jackson and Prince, and has a lot of costume changes.”
• Frank Foster: The country music singer/songwriter and North Louisiana (Cypress Bottom) native is back for his seventh straight year. “He will bring the largest crowd to the stage during our fair this year,” Giordano said. 
He is very good and has a huge fan following. “He’s made a name for himself. He is an independent artist. He refused to sign with record labels, due to the fact he wants to produce music the way he wants to produce it. He does not want a re-cord label controlling him. He’s become very successful. He’s now a Nashville artist and has been on tour this year with Hank Williams Jr. They call it ʻHank and Frank.’ ˮWhat would the fair be without a rodeo? A year of competition will come to an end when the Louisiana Ro-deo Cowboy Association has its fi nals inside Hirsch Coliseum. “It’s their big event of the year,” Gior-dano said. “There are approximately 50 LRCA-sanctioned rodeos during the year throughout Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi. The cowboys and cowgirls are competing for points.
At the end of the year, those that have the most points get invited to the fi nals.
”Meanwhile, Stacey Baker is hoping she and her goats perform well enough at the livestock show to continue earning money to help pay for college education.“Every show I go to, I get better and bet-ter, so getting better will help me with those opportunities for scholarships through 4-H and showing.”And while the early alarms and late-night goat exercises don’t leave much time (or en-ergy) for a social life, raising and showing animals has given Baker quite an education outside the classroom.“It’s really taught me a lot of responsibil-ity. I see a lot of my friends that are the same age as me, but just the maturity level and the responsibility level, I exceed them in that aspect.”And Baker isn’t saying that just to get your goat.


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