As junior shows take place across the country, let’s remember we’re in the business of raising beef, not collecting banners and trophies.
A few years ago, I judged a speech contest at a junior national show. After each presentation, the judges were allowed to ask questions. For each individual, I asked, “What is the biggest issue facing the beef industry today?” I received several outstanding responses with answers ranging from escalating land prices and input costs, the aging rancher, the death tax and animal rights activists. However, I was disappointed when several of the junior showmen cited growing hair on their show steers as one of the biggest challenges they faced as cattlemen.
Don’t get me wrong -- I love the show ring. Each year, my family and I travel to various shows across the country with our show string of Limousin calves. We usually halter break a couple of steers and heifers, as well as a few bull calves to enter at our state fair. With show cattle comes the responsibility of washing the calves daily to get a nice hair coat to work with on show day. The hair is fitted to highlight the calf’s best features, while camouflaging some less-than-flattering traits -- a high tail head or flank, perhaps. Hair is part of the game, and I’ll admit, it makes the game fun!
However, I think it’s important to remind junior showmen and their parents that we are in the business of raising beef, not hair. Showing cattle in the summer is more than collecting banners and trophies; it’s an opportunity to represent the entire beef industry to the public.
Not only do kids learn to balance a feed ration and care for their cattle, both at home and on the show circuit, but showing cattle offers the chance to talk to consumers about beef production.
At the Minnesota State Fair last year, I conducted a workshop for 4-H youth about advocating for agriculture. I asked them to put themselves in the shoes of the millions of people from the Twin Cities who walk past their stalls in the cattle barns. What do you suppose they think about fitting chutes, halters, show sticks and hair adhesives? What questions might they have about the cattle? Is the image you are portraying at the show a good one for consumers to take home with them?
Whether you’re a spectator or a participant at these cattle events, remember to put your best foot forward. Represent cattle ranchers well, and don’t sacrifice your integrity and good cattle sense for a better chance at the first-place finish. With junior shows well underway, I think this is a good reminder for all of us.
What are your thoughts on competitiveness in junior shows? What are the pluses of competition, and downsides, as you see them?