Showing livestock at the State Fair has been a tradition for generations of many North Carolina families. Susan Vick is showing her cow at this year's fair.
"I love to show the cows," she says. "It's my favorite thing to do in 4-H."
For months, hundreds of young North Carolinians have been getting up early and making the long walk to the barn before dawn.
"You just have to go on and get up and look forward to it," Vick says. "After you start working with [the cow], you understand why you didn't lay in bed all that time."
The work pays off with a bond of love and understanding between the two.
"Just the way she looks at me when I come up, I'm about to go into her pen and just put her halter on just like I would if she were tied up," Vick says. "She's really very used to me."
There are lessons to learn, she says -- even after the project is over.
"You never lose that sense of being around them, and you still want to come back up and work with them all the time, but there comes a time when they have to go back to the pasture and be themselves," she says.
There may be blue ribbons at the end of the cold early mornings and countless buckets of feed. But Vick's true reward comes with the experience.
"Yes, I've thought about it before," she says. "It would be really neat to win the grand championship, but if I don't that's OK, too.
"I've gotten the grand championship of all, just being able to work with these animals."