BATH — Gwen Hargrave says she is never happier than when she is tending to her animals in one of the livestock barns at the Steuben County Fair, just as she did Wednesday.

Gwen, a 9-year-old from Wayland, explained that she has been coming to the fair — the 199th edition of which continues all this week in Bath — “since I first opened my eyes” as a baby. She showed her first animal — a hog — when she was 2-years-old and has not looked back, she said, joking that she’s been to something like “8,000 fairs” so far.

Gwen’s animal pens may not have the allure of the midway and grandstand shows, but the dedication of young 4-H’ers to their animals on a sultry Wednesday afternoon revealed a lot about the two-century tradition of the Bath Fair — and the future of agriculture in Steuben County.

During a break between livestock judging, some young farmers sat on hay bales and checked cellphones or snoozed in lawn chairs, but Kaden Haight of Bath guided — and sometimes hip-checked — his Lim-Flex steer through practice for the showmanship class. The steer, an Angus-Limosin cross, was born in April. He seemed stubborn strutting through the turns, but Haight was confident.

“He’s doing good. He went to a show when he was really little, so I think he remembers some stuff from that,” Haight said as he nudged the steer toward another lap in the show arena.

Nearby, Jaiden Sullivan, 14, of Bath, operated a “cow wash” for Robbin, her 7-month old Angus, grooming the animal for today’s competition.

A 4-year veteran showing cows at the fair, Sullivan said, “It’s one of my favorite things to do.” The incoming freshman at Bath-Havering admits that she “spoils” her cow, whose playful antics required assistance from 6-year old Darby Coots of Cameron who plied a scrub brush to the somewhat docile calf.

In the dairy barn, stalls decorated with sunflowers, bandanas and handmade signs identified each cow by name and breed. Some showed off awards attesting to the cows’ blue ribbon status.

Four calves rested under the careful watch of 11-year old Natalie Capluzzi of Hornell, a member of the 4-H Country Critters chapter.

Natalie patiently explained the merits of each of her calves’ breeds for milk production.

“Generally, Holsteins, unless you want butter fat. If you want more butter fat, you want a Jersey,” she said, pointing to a calf named Whi, a tan-colored calf who resembled a fawn nestled in for a nap.

Natalie said that she began raising calves when she was 4-years-old, committing time and patience to their care. She described a typical day.

“It’s a lot. Feed them, give them hay, walk them, water them.”

The fair is the payoff for her hard work.

“Just having all the people come and see what’s left of the dairy industry,” she said.

The ominous phrase “what’s left” was echoed by Steuben County Dairy Princess Katie Sirianni of Hornell. Sirianni said that she grew up on her grandparents’ farm in Canaseraga and has been “coming to this fair as long as I can remember.”

Sirianni’s reign involves promoting milk, “selling T-shirts, walking around the fair answering people’s questions about dairy, about cows, about milk production and the purity of milk,” but the wholesome milk image has become complicated by economic factors and by consumers’ tastes, she said.

“Family farms are struggling right now, but that’s just because different products are being introduced. There’s actually like 600-thousand different drink products, and people are choosing them over milk right now.”

Seeing young farmers like Natalie Capluzzi, Kaden Haight, Jaiden Sullivan and Gwen Hargrave gives the dairy princess reason for optimism long after she turns in her crown.

“Our future. The dairy industry is kind of struggling right now, so to see these kids is, like, amazing to see that we have a future and that the dairy industry is going to prosper in Steuben County.”

Fair visitors jaded by the notion of corporate agriculture overtaking family farms had only to visit to the livestock barns in Bath on Wednesday.

Gwen Hargrave and her sister Alice eagerly wrangled their sheep into place for a newspaper photo, wrapped them in up in big hugs and smiled for the photographer. Alice gave her sheep an extra pat and mentioned that Daisy did very well in Wednesday’s 4-H Open Sheep Show.