The heat and humidity on this southern Friday night are evident in the sweat rolling down the faces of competitors and observers.
Indian Creek eighth grader Dustin Nichols’ face is flushed with excitement.
His head is held high and his shoulders are back, but there’s just a little bit of nerves showing through this confident façade.
A crowd has pressed in offering last minute encouragement and advice.
He’s not the kicker heading in for the game-winning field goal, though; he’s holding the halter of his Chi-Maine heifer, Shelby, as they prepare to enter the show ring at the Gwinnett County Fair.
Younger brother Austin Nichols, a Mansfield fifth grader, just placed third in a crowded field of fifth and sixth grade showmen, so excitement is high among family and friends.
His dad, Lonnie, reminds Dustin to roll down his sleeves as this heat is called into the ring.
Dustin’s mom, Crystal, bumps fists with her oldest son, pulling back into a motion like an explosion, which she explains is a family tradition.
It’s been a long week of activity for the family, as youngest sibling Alicia, a Mansfield first grader, kicked off the fair on Saturday with her three lambs and came out on top with a win in showmanship.
While a lot of families may be scattered to and fro, or even just separated at various television sets, this is a family usually found together at one fair or another.
Working around the house and at Burge Plantation, it’s a family usually found together during the week, as well.
Lonnie Nichols and his siblings showed cattle with FFA in Florida, and he said he thought his family might enjoy showing as his sons reached school age.
Dustin joined Newton 4-H in third grade to show lambs, and both his siblings have followed in his footsteps.
Although it will be a few years before Alicia is old enough to show cattle, she’s already learning how to blow the animals dry before shows from her brothers, parents and uncle.
Each morning, if Alicia and Austin can’t feed their animals before the bus comes, Dustin pitches in before his bus, then mom and dad pick up the chores after that.
In the evening, Alicia measures out six scoops each of Godfrey’s show lamb feed for Lulu, Lacey and Babe, while her brothers separate the lambs and feed their heifers, Shelby and Susie.
"I don’t like that part," Alicia says about feeding, "but then me and mom and dad walk the lambs."
Besides being something the entire family can participate in, showing livestock has a lot of other benefits.
"It’s nice to get away and do something different… and we meet a lot of people," said Lonnie.
Crystal agreed, adding that the children "are learning a lot and staying out of trouble."
Dustin is looking forward to taking his learner’s permit test soon, and says his favorite subject is social studies.
He works with his dad around Burge Plantation, picking up extra money on occasion as well as a lot of skills he’ll find useful if he decides to farm one day.
Austin prefers math classes and says he enjoys hunting with his family.
"You get to see all that nature," said Austin. "You get to see all those squirrels playing around."
He wants to put his skills to work for the Army one day, and said it’s a good way to serve.
The boys root for the Georgia Bulldogs each Saturday, so they also appreciate that 4-H is part of UGA.
While her brothers are relaxed, boots propped up, Alicia bounces from one spot to the next, making her choice of future careers fit well.
"I want to be in the Olympics for gymnastics," she said, adding that she also wants to compete in barrel riding.
She also enjoys singing along to anything related to Hannah Montana or High School Musical.
Back in the show ring, Dustin finishes fourth in overall showmanship for his age, eliciting congratulations all around.
Dustin says that 4-H livestock showing "teaches how to be patient. If anything happens in the ring, you keep your cool."
Wherever the future finds these three, that’s a skill they’ll certainly appreciate.
Terri Kimble is the 4-H Educator for Newton County 4-H. She can be reached at 770-784-2010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.