Having Defied the Odds, Conn. Teenager Preps for Show Season

6/7/2014 8:00 AM
By Sarah L. Hamby Connecticut Correspondent

DAYVILLE, Conn. — Seventeen-year-old Zachary Tarryk attended his first fair, the North Stonington Agricultural Fair, when he was just a newborn.

“Mom didn’t want to stay in the hospital,” he said. “She was bored.”

His parents, Kristen Nieminen and Donald Tarryk, met at the Lebanon Country Fair.

It’s no wonder, then, that the young cattle handler began showing before he was 5 years old.

“I started at 3 or 4,” Zachary Tarryk said recently. “It’s the family business. Technically, you have to be 5, but I started a little bit younger.”

In those early years, Tarryk showed Holsteins. Illness, however, soon required that he move on to the smaller Jerseys.

When he was 5 years old, what the family thought was pink eye was diagnosed as a tumor on his optic nerve. The treatment, he said, left him unable to hold on to the larger animals. But he was unwilling to leave the ring.

“I still showed cows,” Tarryk said. He acknowledged that under normal circumstances, a young boy undergoing treatment for cancer would not have been permitted to expose a weakened immune system to the sometimes harsh surroundings of livestock barns and public fairs.

“We just kind of did it,” said Kristen Nieminen Tarryk.

Besides, “I don’t think they could have stopped me,” Zachary Tarryk said.

Unstoppable and now in remission, Zachary Tarryk started bringing home the ribbons. And plates. And banners.

“We end up throwing a lot of them away,” he admits. “I donate some of them to 4-H They just change the plates and put a new top on them.”

Tarryk’s been a 4-H member since he was 7. At the 4-H dairy show at Eastern States Exposition, or Big E, in 2010, he showed Legacy Lane Duke Lynn and took home Jersey senior and grand champion, and aged cow. More recently, he was the superintendent of the ox pull at the 2013 New London County 4-H Exposition.

In 2012, he won first place in showmanship with a calf at The Big E. At last year’s Connecticut State Junior Jersey Show, Tarryk took champion honors as well as first place in the senior showmanship division. Not to be outdone, his younger brother, Jacob, was the junior showmanship class winner.

A senior in Killingly High School’s Agricultural Education Program, Zachary Tarryk said that his educators understand the time he needs to show his animals, along with the long hours, lack of sleep and experience earned.

“The Big E is almost two weeks,” he said. “Even after my cows have left, I’m still there It was harder in intermediate school. They did not quite understand. They thought I was riding rides for two weeks.”

The high school was more sympathetic.

“They give me SAE days. I get graded on it,” he said.

Tarryk is also an active member in FFA. Last year, he earned a Silver Emblem in the Dairy Cattle Handlers Activity at the 86th National FFA Convention & Expo in Louisville, Ky. On May 17 at the Connecticut State FFA Convention, he earned a Proficiency Award in dairy. He hopes to return to Kentucky for this year’s national convention — Oct. 29-Nov. 1 — to compete again for national recognition.

On May 29, the Killingly FFA Alumni Chapter held its annual FFA Banquet and Awards Night. Tarryk was awarded Star Farmer and received a scholarship, too.

He’s been accepted to the University of Connecticut, has a job milking and caring for cows at Ledgebrook Farm in Canterbury, Conn. — about 20 minutes from home — and works hard to help out when he can.

“We’ve got to keep this running,” he said. “It pays the bills.”

He shrugs off discussion about how hard he works to have show-worthy animals.

“Nah. The hard work’s already done. The genetics, if you get that right, everything else will fall into place,” he said.

The Tarryks have a few more cows on their property than they originally intended due to a family member’s barn collapse in 2011, according to Donald Tarryk. The weight of unprecedented snowfall that year brought more than 130 buildings in Connecticut crashing to the ground. Thousands of animals, mostly chickens, lost their lives.

In early 2012, Kristen Nieminen Tarryk was corralling a few cows when a fire broke out in the kitchen. Significant damage was done to the Tarryk residence, and it took more than a year of working together and with local businesses to make the house a home again.

“It’s been rough, but it’s all right,” Zachary Tarryk said. “These clothes they were in the fire. Just wash them a few times. The smell comes out.”

Next up for Zachary Tarryk, fair season is about to begin.

His first show will be a state show, “Not an actual fair,” he said. “Just a show. No rides. No public.”

He’ll be there for a few days “surrounded by cow people.”

But the show will prepare him for what’s to come later in the show season.

“You can see if your heifer is big enough, what you need to do to improve,” he said.

Being around country fairs and not-so-country fairs has given him some insight.

The Woodstock Fair, for instance, “We like it there,” he said. “There are a lot of people if it’s nice out. They treat us well.”

Other fairs are looking to change things up, sometimes in ways that concern farmers.

“Lots of fairs want to cut it down to 25 of each species,” he said, “but I think if you don’t have the cows or the goats or the horses or any of it, just rides, it would be like Six Flags.”

Tarryk raises and shows Chestnut-Hyll Jerseys. Find him on Facebook by looking for Chestnut-Hyll Jerseys.

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