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Showing Livestock – Why?

Catching up and sharing from the files of my ramblings. This particular set is from August 24, 2015.

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Clyde & Jo

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been asked why our kids show livestock. There are many lessons to be learned while working with an animal which will grow to be ten times your own body weight, along with many memories which will be carried well into adulthood. Clyde was my little buddy, raised as a bottle and then bucket calf after being orphaned by his momma. We played chase; he tried to eat my hair; we walked together in the show ring; and then, I loaded him on the trailer to head to market. Memories made, lessons learned and never forgotten.

The annual Avon Fat Steer Show has long served as our end of summer bash. It’s a weekend we can come together with our friends and neighbors to enjoy and celebrate our community’s roots in agriculture while encouraging and celebrating the accomplishments of our young people as they work to exhibit their livestock.

Once the steer show is done, animals are no longer needing to be washed, groomed and walked daily so there is a relief in responsibility for our children. But after all the months of preparation and shows throughout the summer, a bond is formed between animal and owner, so even though the kids don’t necessarily have to go out and spend time with their cattle, I noticed each one of them venturing out to the barn off and on yesterday.

Part of me wonders why now that the kids don’t have to go out, they do, but when it was a necessity for working, prepping, and practicing, they often needed a nudge or two to get them moving. I don’t wonder long. I remember the days of walking my own cattle and the laughter of playing chase with bucket calves. I remember feeling a full heart when my little buddy tossed his head on my lap while we relaxed under a shade tree after an hour or two of grooming and walking. And I remember the lump in my throat as I loaded that same little buddy, then more than 1,000 pounds, onto the trailer for the last time. It’s the circle of life – a lesson well learned early on in a show kid’s career.

While we eagerly anticipate this fair weekend all summer long, simply for the joy of being there, enjoying our community and so many of the aspects which truly make it home for us, there is also somewhat of a let-down when it is done. Perhaps it’s the sheer exhaustion, particularly this year with the first week of school inconveniently falling on the same week as Steer Show.

Our living room was quite the sight yesterday, strewn with bodies young and not-so-young soaking up some much-needed rest. It made me wonder if this is what the hyped “Zombie Apocalypse” may look like, minus the blood and gore. I kind of chuckled as I searched for a spot to sit among the bodies, but my heart was at peace as we were together, tired-but together.

This is our family: we work hard and we play hard. We may not always be physically together because of work demands, but we are always together in spirit. Thanks to such great technology, we can keep in touch up to the minute when one or more is in a different location. We can know what’s going on where, what stops need to be made along the way and who needs to get where and when. We are in this life thing together. And at the end of the day (or the end of the fair as it may be) we can come together and crash together as well.

Special thanks to all the many volunteers who make the fairs happen. None of it would be possible without the hours upon hours of dozens, if not hundreds of individuals who have contributed in planning and executing the many fairs we have attended. Thank you to the sponsors of each and every class. Thank you to the spectators who clap and encourage the exhibitors. Thank you to those “kids” who have come before ours and taken the time to stop and chat with them about their animals, share their insights, and offer a helping hand. Thank you to those who have stopped us personally to tell us something great about our kids, to share a story or two about how they made your day a little brighter. These are the moments I realize that despite the frustrations, yes, this is a very good thing for our kids and for us as a family.

Someone asked me over the weekend why we do this. They had some valid points:  It’s expensive. Aside from the time involved, you have the gas and all the miles driven, you have to feed the animals, you have show equipment and supplies. You have to eat at the fair and most of those fairs have carnivals where I’m sure the younger kids want to ride and ride and ride.

Honestly, it got me thinking. Why do we do this? Because it’s fun? Well yes, it can be, but just ask any of our kids, chasing cattle through a cornfield really isn’t the best of times. Neither is being tossed into the side of a show ring by an animal that has never even so much as swung his head at you. Many mornings, sleep seems like a better idea than heading out to tend to chores and when returning home late at night after school events and play practices, a shower and the couch is much more appealing than heading to the barn.

Teaching responsibility and building confidence and character are among the top of my list as to why we do what we do. We want our children to be confident in whatever they choose to do in life. We want them to believe in themselves enough to take on whatever challenges life can toss at them. If they raise an animal more than 10 times their weight and can lead said animal through a show ring, exhibiting them with confidence, answering questions from judges and spectators alike, not only specifics about their animal, but about the livestock industry in general, they will have the confidence to tackle challenges as they grow into adulthood and raise families of their own. The truth is, any one of those animals could toss it’s owner at any given moment and be gone in a fraction of a second. It happens to everyone at some point that an animal gets spooked and bolts. No one is immune from this. It happens. But that, too, builds character. There is a huge amount of trust and confidence involved in taking this animal by a rope and leading them in front of an arena full of spectators.

Just like any other form of competition, our kids aren’t always finishing at the top of their classes, but this, too, holds important lessons – winning and losing with grace. Acknowledging and congratulating others on their strong performance, even when their hearts are disappointed reinforces grace and strength in character.

Two of our kids were in the champion steer drive this weekend. What this means is that they each won their class and then were judged against other class winners to determine the champion of the show. Our kids’ animals weren’t chosen as grand or reserve champion, but I couldn’t have been more proud of our kids when I saw the smiles on their faces when the winner was announced. They were genuinely excited for the young man whose steer had been named champion as they had seen him struggle in many of the same ways they had struggled throughout the summer, coming close, but never quite coming out on top. And the one who wasn’t in the drive, was right there ringside, watching, silently encouraging his siblings, and proud of the exhibitor who did win.

These are so much more important than any ride at any fair, so much better than even the best funnel cake. Those are all great, too, and were very much enjoyed over the weekend, but these are the moments which have already turned into memories carefully tucked away in my heart.

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