Starting From The Bottom
When I turned 8 years old, I was ecstatic because I could finally become a “real” 4-H member and show my own cows, just like the rest of my family.
I had been patiently waiting on the sidelines for years watching as my older cousins and sister exhibited their cattle. So, when the time came for me to get my first market steers, I was more than eager to get started. For months, I had names picked out and was only allowed to start with two steers, because my sister also showed and we needed to make sure we had plenty of room in our barn.
My first steers were named Wilson and Spud were an Angus my Braunvieh, respectively. Yes, I was the weird kid who begged for a breed practically no one on the east coast had heard of. Some still don’t know that Braunvieh’s exist, but let’s just say they hold a special piece in my heart (and pasture) and I encourage you to research them a little.
Wilson and Spud became my best friends. Neither of them were halter broke, so the work was not easy right out of the gate. I remember sitting on a bucket in the pen for hours just talking to and encouraging (aka bribing) them to come close to me with alfalfa cubes; a method my family still resorts to on animals that are especially distrusting. Eventually, Wilson and Spud came around and I was able to walk and work on them all on my own. Of course, the first show we went to, I was excited to get them out in the ring, but also extremely nervous. Let’s just say I didn’t walk them around the ring ... they walked me.
This went on for years as I was still young and learning how to show. I had some steers who were patient as could be in the show ring with me, and others who decided to push me around. I didn’t win much at all, but that wasn’t on my mind. For me, it was all about little victories. I would come out of the ring and say things like:
“I didn’t drop my showstick today!”
“I remembered to comb the hair forward after the judge felt my steer!”
“Samson didn’t throw me down!”
“Cherokee walked right into his profile for me!”
My parents were strong believers in making my sister and I earn everything. They didn’t allow us to spend our money on fancy show animals when we started, because they wanted us to learn the ropes of showing first and be humbled from the start. I cannot express how thankful I am we were raised in the industry that way. To some, that may sound harsh. Sure, it took my sister and I a while until we were successful, but we can both say that everything we have accomplished has been cultivated from a long road of hard work and dedication to bettering ourselves and our animals.
Of course, as I grew older and stronger things started to look up. When my parents noticed I was getting a handle on my showmanship skills, they allowed me to purchase higher-quality animals. At this point, my sister's first bred and owned calves were hitting the ground, and she was doing well with them. This inspired me to work hard and prove I was ready for my first show heifer.
I purchased my first Angus show heifer, Lily, from my cousin Chad. He had his own small Angus herd and did very well on national level shows with his bred and owned animals. Lily and I had a special bond from the start: she loved to show, and I was able to hone in on my own showmanship style.
I attended the National Junior Angus Show every year since I started showing, and my steers were usually middle to bottom of the class. But, the year I took Lily, I won my class. I was elated that I could see my hard work finally paying off. The rest, as they say, is history. My sister and I have had a lot of success during our years of showing; most of it stemming from our bred and owned animals. Some of the best calves I have raised are descendants of Lily, and she still remains my favorite show heifer I’ve ever had.
My sister and I never had it easy from the beginning, and I don’t believe you can truly become a good showman until you’ve been tested to your limits and know how to handle any calf that gets put in your hand. Showmanship is more than just walking a statue into the ring and looking pretty; it’s pure focus, determination, and the ability to know your animal like the back of your hand. The best showman in the ring is not the one who stands still the longest. The best showman is in perfect sync with their animal, moving together as one and not just two individuals. Knowing exactly where your heifer’s show side back leg needs to be placed to make her top look just right. This kind of knowledge doesn’t just happen – it is earned in the long days of hard work you put in in the barn and building upon your past mistakes.
I believe starting from the ground up his a lost art. While there are always exceptions to any assumption or observation, it is disheartening to when youth are pushed into the ring with exceptional animals, but who don’t know what to do with them once they’re in there. Then if the animal doesn't place well, the showman is blamed. The livestock industry is a place of learning and growing, and I hope we can cultivate a rich community who empowers youth to grow as showman.
Take a step back and gain perspective of why we show livestock. Winning is important, but at the end of the day, banners are just fabric. Young kids should take away a sense of responsibility, the importance of hard work, competitiveness, sportsmanship, and a healthy dose of humility.
I promise success is a million times sweeter when it’s been a long time coming and been tirelessly pursued.