Friday, April 15, 2011

Youth livestock events are a family affair and tradition

4-H livestock club members show off their awards.
One of the highlights of my life the past several years has been volunteering as a 4-H livestock club adviser.  As a parent of a child who shows livestock animals, and as a former youth livestock showman myself, I know what it takes to get ready for livestock show events.  It is definitely a family affair.

With young children who are starting out showing livestock, they can't do it alone.  This is where mom, dad or some adult figure has to step in to lend a hand and guide them the right way.  And when it comes to showing cattle, adults are critical in helping build a child's confidence level around large animals.  It is all about building a trusting relationship with your animal that makes a difference.

Talking to a judge really isn't that scary!
Yesterday I witnessed firsthand how hours of preparation and proper care of livestock are so important.  Our 4-H club beef heifer showmen had their first show of the season...and as always, it's the hardest.  New cattle in the show ring for the first time, new 4-H members who have never shown before, and parents who have never experienced this type of thing.  It can be a bit overwhelming and exhausting.  Let's be quite frank, showing those big critters takes some serious work!  But when all was said in done yesterday, the kids (and parents) did awesome!

A cloverbud waits with parents.
When you see a smile of a child after they survived "the unknown" in the show ring, it makes my job as a volunteer so worthwhile.  I've witnessed some of the quietest kids come out of their shell once they've experienced what it feels like to go into the show ring after handling an 850-pound animal.  Talk about facing fear!  This is what I mean when I say 4-H and FFA make a difference in a child's life.

Facing my fear in the arena
I have never forgotten those times when I showed livestock as a kid.  I started off showing pigs, which were fun, easy to handle and raise, and more controllable.  I also showed pigs because I wasn't old enough to show cattle yet.  When I finally did become old enough to start showing beef steers, I was scared to death of them.  Just ask my dad!  I was so scared of the "unknown" in the show ring, I would come to tears and beg dad to not make me go in there.  

And then there was the first time I let my grandparents talked me into participating in a youth Belgian horse showmanship class when I was in 8th grade.  I thought I was going to pass out from fear.  Just look at the size of a Belgian's head, not to mention their body and feet!  Looking back, it never was quite as bad as I thought it would be.  After all, my parents and grand parents weren't going to put me in an unsafe situation.

Showing cattle can be a bit intimidating when you are young.  Shucks, it can be intimidating for an adult!

My big "ah ha" moment
When I was 10 years old, I joined the Ashland County (Ohio) Baby Beef Club, which had about 60 members.  Every November all of the members would go to a local cattle farm to pick up their calves from a shipment that was brought in from out of state.  All of the cattle were similar in size and age, which made it fair for everyone.  Club members would draw a number out of a hat on a first come, first serve basis.  You'd pay for your steer, load them up and for the next 10 months you would raise your steer in preparation for the beef show at county fair the following September.

This is me and my Hereford steer.  (Second place, 1979).
As I recall, it was at the 1979 Ashland County Fair where I earned a third place in a pretty large youth showmanship class.  Once I left the arena with a bit more confidence and a ribbon premium in my pocket, I waited outside with my steer until his placing class was called to enter.  (Of course, I made dad tie him up because I didn't want to hold him by myself.)  In the meantime, my dad went back in to watch the judging of the other classes.  I can remember him scurrying back outside to tell me, "Your steer may actually place pretty high....the judge is looking for your steer's body type [less fat] this year.  Make sure you do your best to show him off."

When dad told me this, my butterflies went away.  I started getting really excited that I might actually have a shot at some good premium (money).  Suddenly all of the fear I kept bottled up inside went away.  I had business to do.  I had to focus.  I had to win a class so I could earn some good money!

As it turned out, dad was right when it came to the judging.  I didn't get the blue ribbon with my steer (I received second place in my steer's weight division), but I did get a fond memory of that experience that will always stay with me.   

Kaylyn with her first calf, Helga, in 2003.
Keeping the tradition alive
After all of the craziness I went through showing beef steers as a kid -- tears, fears and exhaustion -- my parents never thought I would now be helping young people show cattle today.  And like me, my daughter has gone through times where she was petrified to enter the ring with a beef animal that was acting up.  She has looked fear in the eyes many times (with a slight nudge from mama and daddy, of course) and conquered it.

Kaylyn showing Herefords in 2010.
You can always bet the smile is there, too -- along with some ribbon premium money and a good nap afterwards.   Now that she is older, I asked her the other day if she still enjoys showing cattle.  She said, "I can't imagine doing anything else!" 



  1. Thank you Julie for all your help to make yesterday possible. We couldn't have done it without you! It was a wonderful day for the kids and adults.

  2. Great post. I learned so much from 4-H and showing cattle. I think it is awesome that you are giving back to a program you learned so much from. Good luck to all the 4-H members this year!