The barns echo with the sounds of goats, chickens and pigs as the 50-foot tall Expo Wheel towers over the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds.

Vendors set up their traveling trailers as they prepare to serve a week’s worth of elephant ears and lemon shake-ups.

It’s fair week in Bartholomew County, which means nine days of fun, fried food and the scorching heat of a southern Indiana summer.

An estimated 100,000 visitors will crowd into the fairgrounds southwest of Columbus through the next week, with 865 4-H’ers exhibiting their projects in the hopes of winning a championship.

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For the Sims family, it’s Christmas in July.

From sun up to sun down, Claudia, 17, Chloe, 15, and Henry Sims, 11, are outside. Whether they’re competing with their nearly 40 poultry entries or exercising their four sheep, the entire summer is centered around 4-H.

“We’ve always been going to the fair, ever since we were really little,” Claudia said. “We all love 4-H and the opportunities it brings. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.”

Claudia, Chloe and Henry Sims have spent a combined 19 years in 4-H. The three siblings sported their white button-down shirts, bright blue jeans and cowboy boots Friday morning as they prepared for a day of competition in the 4-H Poultry Show.

Claudia and Chloe made sure to wear their rhinestone belts — something they said always catches the judges’ eye, but in a good way.

The family spends months preparing for the week that comes around one time a year, but Claudia said it’s all worth it. Especially when it comes down to a blue ribbon.

Together, they walked away with 38 blue ribbons Friday. They will also exhibit four sheep entries Wednesday in the 4-H Sheep Show.

“4-H has taught us how to be a good winner and a good loser in all different categories,” Claudia said.

A walk down the midway

While the opening day of the fair means a week worth of competition for the Sims family, for others, it means spending time with friends while wandering the midway.

Gracie Compton, 12, of Columbus, is celebrating her fourth year in 4-H. While she loves showing her rabbits, horses and chickens in fair competitions throughout the week, she couldn’t wait to get her hands on a deep fried Oreo. That’s how she knew it was officially fair week.

4-H runs in the family for Gracie also. Both her grandmother and father participated in various aspects of the organization as children. Gracie showed a Jersey Giant chicken early on in Friday’s competition and won best breed. Now, she’s aiming for champion titles in her other competitions throughout the week.

While her grandmother, Kathy Compton, said winning is nice, she also said there is a lot more to 4-H beyond receiving a blue ribbon.

“4-H teaches leadership, discipline and responsibility, plus camaraderie with friends of similar interests,” Compton said. “It’s such a community event — getting the whole community involved.”

While 11-year-old Henry Sims has only participated in 4-H for three years, he said he’s already learned several new things that will continue to help him in the future.

From learning how to manage animals to new responsibilities, Henry said he loves being able to follow in his older sisters’ footsteps.

“Showing animals here really teaches you responsibility,” Henry said. “That carries on to anything you do in real life, like jobs and school.”

In it for the birds

The 4-H Poultry Show is the biggest competition for the Sims family, who brought around 40 chickens to the fair this year. But only about 500 chickens were registered this year for the 4-H Poultry Show, according to Matt John, a leader for the Feathered Friend Poultry Club.

Feathered Friends is responsible for organizing the poultry show. John said the number of birds registered this year for the Bartholomew County Fair and fairs across the state seem lower than in years past.

He said the 2015 avian flu epidemic, which led to a statewide ban on exhibiting birds of any type, may still be to blame. Last year, more than 800 birds were at the fairgrounds.

Despite the low entry numbers, several families participated in Friday’s show. Divided into three age categories — rookies, juniors and seniors — the entries are judged by size, condition and overall quality of the birds. Judges use a book that categorizes all breeds and their requirements.

Claudia said the book, which is available for contestants, allows participants to judge their birds on their own to get an idea of how well it will do in competition.

“A couple days before we bring our chickens, we give them all baths and make sure they have complete water and feed at all times,” Claudia said. “For our sheep, we get them in the spring. As soon as we get them, we make sure we walk them every day — every morning and every evening.”

From there on, it’s a constant routine of ensuring the animals have enough hay, water and feed to last them through the day. Chloe said the process can be tricky when it comes to making sure each animal weighs the correct number of pounds.

“It really shows personal responsibility and has taught us a lot over the years for sure,” Chloe said. “It’s challenging sometimes, but you learn new things every day.”

The Sims will be at the fair with their animals every day throughout the nine-day fair week, which kicked off Friday at 5 p.m.

“We just love the fair,” Claudia said.

Today at the fair

Saturday: Farm Bureau Insurance Day; Military Appreciation Day (anyone with a military ID can park for free)

8 a.m. 4-H Horse and Pony Western Halter and Performance Show

9 a.m. Lil’ Wranglers Goat Show – Pavillion

9 a.m. 4-H Goat Show – Pavillion

2 p.m. to 10 p.m. 4-H Community, Family Arts and Commercial Buildings open

5 p.m. Midway opens – Regular tickets until 10 p.m.

5 p.m.  Lil’ Hands on the Farm open

5 p.m. Musical talent of 2016 Miss Bartholomew County 4-H Fair Bail Meyer – David Boll Theatre

5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Let’s Bake a Pie Contest entry registration – Family Arts Building

6 p.m. Let’s Bake a Pie Contest – Family Arts Building

6 p.m. Pedal Tractor Pull – east of Farm Bureau Building, Registration begins at 5 p.m., $2 entry

7 p.m. Elvis impersonator Ron Hobbs – David Boll Theatre

7 p.m. 4-H Rabbit Registration deadline – Community Building

7 p.m. Demolition Derby – Grandstand

7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wild Azalia Blue – Farm Bureau Building

10 p.m. Midnight Madness Midway – $12 wristbands

Sunday at the fair

Sunday: Columbus and Hope FFA Day

8 a.m. 4-H Horse and Pony English Halter and Performance Show, Contesting show will be after 3 p.m.

12:30 p.m. Lil’ Wrangler Rabbit Show – Pavilion

1 p.m. 4-H Rabbit Show – Pavilion

1 p.m. Baby Personality Contest – Farm Bureau Building

1 p.m. Columbus FFA Antique Tractor Pull – Grandstand

2 p.m. to 10 p.m. 4-H Community, Family Arts and Commercial Buildings open

3 p.m. to 5 p.m. 60th Anniversary Celebration – Antique Tractor Tent

5 p.m. Vesper Services – David Boll Theatre

5 p.m. Midway opens – $23 wristbands

5 p.m. Lil’ Hands on the Farm open

6:30 p.m. Christian contemporary music from Columbus area youth group – David Boll Theatre

6:30 p.m. Bartholomew County Farm Stock Tractor Pull – Grandstand