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Kentucky State Fair: Champion goats rebound to show at fair

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Horrific fire in March destroyed half of Shelburnes’ herd

By Lisa King

A family that endured an horrific loss to their prize-winning goat herd in a barn fire this past March is preparing to take the survivors to the Kentucky State Fair.

Howard and Joann Shelburne of Simpsonville, who lost 30 prize-winning Alpine Dairy goats – half their herd – have been showing goats for 45 years.

The Shelburnes were devastated after the fire, as most of the goats that died were prize-winners, earning nearly 70 ribbons at last year’s state fair.

On the morning of the fire, as Shelburne talked about the horror of hearing their terrified bleating echoing through the darkness as the barn was engulfed in flames, her love for goats shone through, as she talked about how she wasn’t going to let that tragedy stop her from building her herd back up and showing her goats again.

She has kept that vow.

She and her husband are planning to enter 27 goats this year.

“We are out here setting up right now,” she said by phone interview on Tuesday from the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center in Louisville.

She said the family has worked hard to rebuild their herd and has replaced the barn with a new one.

Shelburne said that most of the goats that survived the fire were senior does that were housed on a hill above the burned barn.

“They all kidded real close after that,” she said. “So we have eight kids showing, [also] two of the yearlings that got burnt and have healed.”

Shelburne said she was determined that the two injured yearlings should make the trip to the fair this year.

“Since they fought so long and hard to live, [they are showing],” she said. “One of them is scarred up pretty bad, the other one isn’t.”

One kid, who was only a couple of weeks old when the fire broke out, overcame all odds to escape the blazing predawn inferno. The baby goat had to jump 3 feet just to get out of her pen in the barn, then could not eat for a time afterward because of a badly burned tongue.

The baby, whom Howard Shelburne named, “Survivor,” has healed now, with some lingering scarring on her back and one ear, but her new owner has decided not to show her, Joann Shelburne said.

“I ended up giving Survivor to Carolyn [Travis], because she just fell in love with her,” Shelburne said.

Travis was one of the neighbors who rushed to aid the Shelburnes in the aftermath of the fire that morning and had immediately taken little Survivor into her arms to try to get her to nurse a bottle.

The Shelburnes began showing goats a few years after moving to Shelby County 45 years ago. They have raised several kinds of milk goats, such as Nubians, Saanen and Toggenburgs, but now their herd consists strictly of Alpine dairy goats.

Joann Shelburne was active as a 4-H leader for many years, and their children, Troy and Melissa, showed goats as well, even traveling to goat shows in other states.

Shelburne said that this year she is going to do something special at the fair, in recognition of the goats that perished in the fire.

“I really want to talk to kids down here [at the state fair] about fire and what it can do to you and to your animals,” she said. “I am just going to have a little program here about fire, where I can talk to them about the dangers of fire, and show them what it can do, and how survivors struggle so much, and what they face in healing.”

Kentucky State Fair

WHEN: 7 a.m.-10  p.m. (exhibit and Thrillway hours vary), today-Aug. 25

WHERE: Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center, Louisville

TICKETS: Adults $6-10; children 3-12, $4; Infants and under, free (prices vary based on dates, age)

THRILLWAY:wristbands, $15-25 (vary by day)

PARKING: On-or-off-site parking, $8

THEME DAYS: Thursday, County Fairs Day; Monday, Military Monday (active-duty and veterans’ families will receive discounts with ID); Tuesday, Senior’s Day ($1 admission before 6 p.m.); Wednesday, early bird discount by noon; Aug. 22, Farm Bureau Day; Aug. 25, Last Blast