In the early years of the fair, large posters announcing the date of the fair would be nailed to trees and handed out to county residents. On the posters would be drawings of livestock because horses, cattle and mules were a dig draw. The posters would exclaim: "The Finest Stock in Existence!"
As the fair grew, other animals such as draft horses and hogs were added.
In 1909, the automobile was of great concern to exhibitors. According to a newspaper article at the time, many farmers contended their horses and other livestock were frightened by the new type of transportation, and farmers requested they be parked away from the show area. Today, of course, the animals accept automobiles and are transported to the fair grounds in trucks.
By 1921, the types of livestock -- any animals kept for profit -- had increased to include heifers, Jersey and Holstein dairy cattle, rams and ewes, chickens, ducks, geese, pigeons and turkeys. Roosters and hens became a mainstay, and rabbits were judged in the categories of bucks and does.
Rivalries developed between farming families. Years ago, local historian Katherine Cochran wrote: "The interest in the stock exhibits was very keen, and the rivalry between the Seimers, Harrises, Clippards, Beardsleys, Clardys and other owners of blue-ribbon stock was well known throughout Southeast Missouri."
In 1940 when the fair was first held at Arena Park, "interest in showing livestock and farm products was more than the association anticipated," entry clerk Elmer Lind told a newspaper reporter. "The barns, tents and shelters where livestock, cattle, birds and poultry were on display have always had the strongest appeal to farmers and cattlemen. And that was the initial reason for starting the fair."
In 1944 more than 400 exhibits were entered by boys and girls of 4-H clubs from 10 area counties. Rabbits were now part of the show. Members of 4-H clubs and school-sponsored Future Farmers of America (FFA) clubs joined the fair in holding breed shows and sales, instead of having shows of their own.
A newspaper story of the 1970 fair noted that 4-H cattle and beef had been sold to IGA in Jackson and Mr. C's in Cape Girardeau.
Livestock was the motivating force that promoted interest and financial backing, and it was livestock that made the SEMO District Fair the third largest fair in the state by 1978. Judges gave out ribbons and cash awards by the bundle.
Judging livestock has changed little over the years. Animals are judged in different classes and criteria varies according to the animal, but things looked at can include bone structure, muscle, body capacity, body composition, color and performance.
Marilyn Scott, entry clerk for livestock at this year's fair, said there are usually different judges for different types of animals and poultry.
"Judging swine has been in decline over the years," she said. "Poultry has always been big and cattle is popular. A lot of people come to see the mules because we're the Show Me State."
Jim Bollinger of Marquand judges mules and horses at fairs all over the country. This year will be his third year judging mules at the SEMO District Fair. He said mules have been judged by certain standards for as long as he can remember, and he's been judging mules and horses for 50 years.
"You want a mule to be wide between the eyes and have a nice, straight neck," he said. "Mules are the only animal that can see their back feet when they walk. That's why they're good for going into hard terrain." Bollinger said their legs can't be crooked, and the hooves have to be straight. They also have to be trained to have a good temperament.
"When I judge a mule I have the driver (owner) make him trot, pivot and do a figure eight," said Bollinger. "Then I have the mule back up to a loading dock and stand there for a minute. Because working mules would be loaded that way."
Bollinger said people who win ribbons and cash awards for their mules and other livestock feel a sense of pride, and awards make the animals worth more on the market.