CUMBERLAND – Tami Wayboer spent the first day of the Cumberland County Fair on Sunday talking nonstop about her favorite subject: camelids, specifically, alpacas and llamas.
Wayboer fell in love with the shaggy South American beasts in 2009 and just had to have one.
Now she and her husband, Bob, own 16 alpacas and two llamas along with four donkeys and three sheep at their Shadow Hill Farm in New Gloucester. She said walking among her llamas and alpacas is the perfect way to relax after a busy day at work.
“These animals are so therapeutic,” said Wayboer.
Wayboer and dozens of other farmers are spending the next week talking to fairgoers about their animals, a major attraction at the eight-day annual agricultural exhibition, which can draw 50,000 people if the weather is good.
“This is all about animals, food and fun,” said Mike Timmons, president of the Cumberland Farmers’ Club, which runs the 142-year-old institution.
On opening day Sunday, the cows, goats, pigs, miniature ponies and towering draft horses seemed to enjoy the attention. Samantha Grant, 19, of Gorham, who grew up going to the fair as a 4-H member, tended to a wall of calves standing quietly chewing hay.
“They are getting used to people,” said Grant.
The calves are headed for the Steer Scramble event next Saturday when young 4-H members rope a calf. The 4-H members will spend the next year raising the calf for auction at next year’s Cumberland County Fair.
Bringing animals to the fair is not an easy proposition, said Diane O’Brien of Baker Brook Farm in Windham. O’Brien was tending about a dozen Jersey, Holstein and Ayrshire dairy cows, part of her son Alan O’Brien’s 90-head milking herd.
It is expensive and takes hard work to spend a week at the fair, she said.
The animals must be transported by trailer and their owners need their own trailer to sleep in at night.
O’Brien bathes the fair cows daily and spends the rest of the time cleaning up after them.
“We want to keep them clean so they are nice for the public,” said O’Brien.
But O’Brien said the effort is worth it because it gets the word out about her son’s dairy herd.
“I love the schoolchildren to see them,” she said.
The fair also focuses on gardening, with judging of produce and a giant pumpkin contest. On Sunday morning a 1,196-pound pumpkin, raised by Edwin Pierpont of Jefferson, set a new record for the fair, weighing in 66 pounds heavier than any previous entry.
The fair also inspires growers to share their own gardening successes. Bill Flies of Gray had just entrusted an enormous strangely shaped potato with Carolyn Small, superintendent of the exhibition hall. Small seized the opportunity to start a “name the monster potato” contest. “Whoever wins gets a potato pin,” said Small.
It is such down-home touches that make the fair a favorite, said several visitors. Janet Baker of Windham said she grew up in Fryeburg before the Fryeburg Fair turned into an extravaganza that can draw 300,000 visitors. She said the Cumberland County Fair seems closer to its agricultural roots.
“This is more like what we remember when we were young,” said Baker.
The fair continues through Sept. 28. The fairgrounds at 197 Blanchard Road are open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: