Driving along the manicured streets of most Conroe neighborhoods, you would never guess that the brick facades might be hiding a prize-winning fair operation. This is precisely the case at the Lillard residence. Despite the suburban confines, Morghan Lillard, an incoming junior at Conroe High School, managed to win her first showmanship competition with her rabbits.
At the start of their rabbit-raising journey, Morghan's mother, Amy, remembers asking herself, "How are we going to pull this off?" The family had no experience with the animals. Even finding out that raising rabbits for the Montgomery County Fair required breeding rather than just caretaking was a surprise.
Morghan keeps her rabbits in the backyard in about 100 square feet of space. While she says her favorite part of raising the New Zealand Whites is playing with them, there have been a lot of challenges along the way, from babies being born during the last freeze to adult rabbits who have made a name for themselves as escape artists.
Brian Hayes, executive director of the Montgomery County Fair, recommends rabbits for those with limited space or HOA restrictions. Rabbits have a lower investment point, you can house them in your garage or backyard, and they make almost no noise.
On the other side of town, just outside the city limits, the Cox family home sits nestled beneath towering trees with bright pastureland surrounding the property. While their setting might be more traditional for agricultural pursuits than the Lillard's, the land doesn't come with experience. When Meredith Cox participated in the scramble program at the fair, no one in the family knew that meant they'd be receiving a certificate for a calf.
Meredith says it has been a learning process aided by much research and the help of mentors and friends in their 4H community. At their calf's first show, the family showed up with one of their own hairbrushes and a Shop-Vac outfitted to serve as a make-shift blower. Melissa, Meredith's mother, says the Shop-Vac didn't work, but they soon found themselves receiving help from other competitors.
Meredith isn't the only Cox who spent the past year learning the ropes of fair competition. Eleven-year-old Madelyn Cox, Meredith's younger sister, tried her hand at raising chickens. She says the work never stops, and, in the beginning, the birds have to be attended to every two to three hours.
Chickens are another animal Hayes recommends for those with limited space, but he notes that living in a neighborhood doesn't necessarily preclude kids from raising larger animals like heifers. Many schools in Montgomery County have space available for kids who would like to raise a cow, or another hoofed animal, that doesn't have a place at home. Brian Hayes grew up in a neighborhood and kept his goats and heifers at the school barn.
While all three girls acknowledge the challenges that come along with raising their animals for the fair, each of the girls agrees the rewards are worth the effort. Meredith says learning that she has the willpower to work hard every single day was her favorite part of the experience. Morghan says the friends she has made in FFA is the thing she'll remember from her time as a student.
What was most surprising about the experience? The harmonious answer from all three girls is the amount of poop involved. Madelyn recalls her little sister Myla helping her out by holding a chicken during her competition (the chickens are held upside down) and being hit with projectile poop.
With that full disclosure out of the way, if you want to start your own fair journey with your kids, both families give the same advice: join a local 4H or FFA chapter. There you can find an experienced mentor to help you through the process.