Izzy Battaglia feeds a miniature zebu at the South Carolina State Fair on Oct. 12. Commerford and Sons Petting Zoo is one of many animals attractions at the fair. (Photos by Kate Robins/Carolina News and Reporter)

The S.C. State Fair draws in people from across the state each year. 

Some visitors are enthralled with new fried foods, while others are determined to enjoy every ride. 

But for 7-year-old Lily Blackwell, it’s the small, furry friends that capture her attention.

“I like feeding the animals,” she said. “They nibble off me.”

South Carolina kicked off its annual State Fair on Wednesday. With it, returned the animals that fairgoers said they look forward to seeing – some, for petting and some, for show.

Commerford and Sons Petting Zoo has been coming to the fair for more than 10 years.

South Carolina’s fair is the only one in the South that the Connecticut-based group visits.

But traveling from Connecticut to South Carolina is no easy feat. 

Manager Jerry Deziel has been with the petting zoo since he was 12.

Deziel and his crew took five trailers for the 14-hour drive and had to replace a tire on the journey.  The trip costs at least $5,000 when factoring in fuel and other expenses, Deziel said. 

Eight workers from the petting zoo traveled to Columbia this year. The team is responsible for managing and taking care of the camels, goats, mules and other animals who will receive attention over the two-week long fair.

The work doesn’t stop there, however.

Deziel and his team start each day around 7:30 a.m. They make sure all the animals have clean pens and fresh water and then get ready for the day, said animal caretaker Tony Pemberton.

It’s important to make sure the animals know you care, he said.

“Respect the animals because camels are a lot bigger than you,” Pemberton said. “If you don’t respect them, they’re not going to respect you. And if they don’t respect you, then you’re going to have a hard time handling them.”

Everyone has different roles. Deziel oversees the attraction. Pemberton helps take care of the animals while making sure everyone on staff gets a break. 

And worker Amanda Perry walks the ponies and sells tickets.

Every aspect of bringing the zoo together is a team effort, Perry said.

“We all help clean up,” Perry said. “You can’t just (expect) one guy to take care of this.”

The petting zoo is only a small portion of the fair’s animal exhibits.

People across South Carolina travel to have their livestock compete as show animals.

Sierra Tinsley, 17, of Pelzer, brought nine cows this year. She and her family spend from $800 to $1,200 feeding the cows each month, she said. 

Taking care of the animals normally means making sure the cows can produce milk to sell to customers.

At the fair, it means making sure they’re watered and fed and clipped.

Preparing the cows for the show is a 12-month process, said fellow cow showman Nelson Brooks.

Brooks begins prepping the cows in January, so he is ready to compete when the fall comes around. 

Showing cows gives him the opportunity to educate the public and meet new people, he said. 

“It’s a big community we have,” Brooks said. “We’re all family and friends.”

Educating the public is a common thread among the fair’s animal workers.

Brian Witt, superintendent of the fair’s small stock farm, has been showing poultry for more than 30 years. 

Showing animals includes finding unique ways to entertain people, he said. Witt and the fair do this through its popular “duck slide.”

Witt collects more than 100 ducks each year to display. The ducks go up and down the water slide, attracting people to the “funny” scene, Witt said. 

“Showing poultry is a dying hobby,” Witt said. “What we have to try to do is get enough varieties to make it so that when people come in … this is the only place they’re only going to see stuff like this.”

The South Carolina State Fair runs from Oct. 11-22. Tickets are available on its website.

Nelson Brooks trims hair from one of his cows in preparation for Saturday’s show. 

Lily Blackwell reaches out to feed a goat. Goats are popular with young children at the petting zoo.

A brown cow waits for a haircut in a barn at the South Carolina State Fair. The cow will be competing in a show on Saturday.

PHOTOS: The South Carolina State Fair kicked off its two-week stay on Wednesday, bringing back many popular animal attractions. Commerford and Sons Petting Zoo brought camels, mules and other animals for fair-goers to enjoy, while other owners brought their animals to show off in a competition.