This is the first in a series of articles, to be published July in the Cambridge News and Deerfield Independent, about local families who have shown at area agriculture fairs for generations.
Rylee Brattle describes caring for animals and showing at the local county fairs as a “family affair.”
Six Brattlie cousins — Hanna, Rylee, Wyatt, Landon, Grace, Waylen and Will — are gearing up for the Stoughton, Jefferson and Dane County fairs in July.
Seated around Jenn and Brent Brattlie’s dining room table, laughing every other sentence, the cousins and their parents shared what going to the fair means to them.
“I like enjoying the cousin time,” Will Brattlie said.
“Summer is probably when we get all our cousin time in,” Hanna agreed.
The Brattlie kids began showing at the fairs within the last seven years. The group of cousins will show everything from goats, chickens, rabbits, beef, crops, woodworking, pictures, sculpture, painting, jam, flowers, recycled art and an entrepreneurial project.
The three fathers of the cousins, Nick, Dan and Brent Brattlie, began showing at the fair themselves in the early 80s. Dan Brattlie said he began by showing crops, and later, the brothers brought goats and beef. They transitioned from vegetables to animals around high school.
“What I remember as a kid, things that you look back on, (are) the good memories and the camaraderie,” Nick Brattlie said. “The connections, the experiences.”
“Those are connections that will last a lifetime for our kids,” Dan Brattlie agreed. “That’s a really neat thing.”
The fairs are a busy time for the cousins. They said their days are filled with washing, walking and feeding animals, cleaning stalls, quizzing each other on showmanship, presenting in the ring and exploring the barns admiring other people’s work.
“Those two weeks for us are reserved for fair only,” Hanna said.
Hanna and Rylee said they usually camp out at the Jefferson County Fair.
“It’s usually like two to three hours of downtime, and or else it’s like go, go, go, go, go,” Rylee said. “I like the anxiety. I like the craziness.”
While they may not have much free time, the cousins manage to fit some fun into their days. Playing card games like “Sevens” and “B.S.” in the barn, napping alongside their animals, swimming and riding carnival rides are all fair traditions.
“We go to the beach sometimes,” Hanna said.
“It’s always fun when we spray each other with water,” Will said.
“Oh yeah that’s fun,” Rylee agreed.
“I like the food,” Waylen Brattlie adds.
The food is a highlight for the cousins. They excitedly listed foods they love to eat every year — snow cones, cheese curds, pretzels, burgers, ice cream, baked potatoes and corn on the cob. Landon Brattlie swears by the mini donuts.
“The list just goes on and on,” he said.
The Brattlies share a common Fair tradition spanning the generations — the 4-H Olympics. Both the parents and kids have fond memories of the event. Will Brattlie said each club takes on different feats of strength, like flipping tires, pushing cars, races, pulling a tractor and tug-of-war.
“The one thing that really stands out is the 4-H Olympics,” Nick said. “And I see it now with the kids, just the excitement.”
In grade school, Dan and Brent had a particularly serious tug of war match-up with the Oregon FFA club.
“It came down to these big seniors and juniors in high school and us, sixth grade and down, and we just about beat them. We were like a ribbon away,” Dan said.
When the kids scoffed at their parents’ almost-victory, Dan added “this is a true story.”
Both Brent and Will said they vividly remembered showing beef cattle for the first time.
“I remember one, my heifer had ringworm and I couldn’t show her,” Brent Brattlie said. “First year showing beef I think. The best one was at Stoughton Fair when I won Grand Champion steer,” sad Brent.
Preparing animals for the fair, Dan Brattlie said, is a year-long process.
“It’s harder work than I remember it being,” Dan said.
“It’s because you’re the parent now,” Kate Brattlie joked.
“You’re just hoping you’re teaching your kids a little bit of something about life, and getting up to do chores 365 days a year,” Dan Brattlie said.
“Which they love to do,” he added jokingly.
“I think they’re going to remember this, working together and growing up and all the fun times... like going to the farm and working on things,” Kate Brattlie said. “They all have a great time, and it’s fun to watch them every year, get better at things, and maybe fail at things but know that they’ve worked really hard.”
“Just have as much fun as you can, because it’s only once a year,” Rylee said.
The Stoughton Fair runs July 3-7 at Mandt Park in Stoughton. The Jefferson County Fair is July 10-14 at 503 N. Jackson Ave. in Jefferson and the Dane County Fair will be July 18-21 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.