BEEF Daily

Washington Post Paints Ugly Picture Of Showing Livestock


An article appearing in The Washington Post describes hog and cattle shows in a negative way, putting the spotlight on the politics, cost of competing, and the challenges that those who aren’t willing to shell out the big bucks have in succeeding. Showing livestock has a lot of positive facets to it, and the industry needs to respond to this negativity by shining a light on what’s good about kids exhibiting livestock.

We spent the weekend at the South Dakota State Fair, where we exhibited our seedstock. Showing cattle is a way for us to market our cattle and interact with potential buyers. Growing up, we spent countless hours in the barn working on our cattle, and this year was no exception. Cattle shows are also the only family vacations we take, and we truly enjoy preparing animals for the ring and seeing the results of our hard work pay off.

READ: Showing Cattle Is More Than Ribbons And Banners

Despite all of the positives of showing livestock, the show business has received some negative attention from mainstream media over the years.

Remember last summer’s fluffy cows? One photo of a club-calf bull went viral, making Americans fall in love with the bone and hair that make cattle look much like a real-life teddy bear. Some would say this humanized cattle, making it tougher for consumers to picture eating that food animal. Others would argue that all the fluff and puff isn’t even close to reality. Many had the opinion that the fluffy cow trend was a good way to put the spotlight on a fun part of the beef industry and attract more attendees at county and state fairs and livestock shows.

Now show pigs have made the news, and I think the livestock industry needs to respond. Last week, I ran across an article written by Lydia DePillis in The Washington Post entitled, “Swine for sale: How kids’ livestock shows became a cutthroat (and expensive) business,” and I spent the better part of the state fair pondering the points made in this piece.


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DePillis describes how a show family ran into some tough luck with their hogs and ended up purchasing some lower-quality pigs to show at the West Virginia State Fair. When the kids received last place ribbons in the show, she painted them as the victim and the winning family as the villain.

She wrote about the politics in the show ring, the intense competition of buying the best stock to win, and how the winning animal is subject to the opinion of one person. Through the entire article, she implied that this is a bad thing, and shared her views that the show industry has changed the livestock business for the worse.

Some might say there is no place for the show business in the livestock industry. They believe that show cattle are too far from reality -- they don’t represent what the packer wants or what might perform well in a breeding program or a feedlot. However, I would argue that the show cattle business (or any livestock for that matter) is what gets kids excited and engaged to be a part of production agriculture and can influence trends and improvements made in breeding programs.

Darcy Sexson perfectly describes the show experience in her recent blog post, “Why Showing Livestock Matters.” Here is an excerpt from her blog:

"I wish I could describe the feeling of entering a show ring. Or the competiveness that opens up when you grab the halter of a show heifer. Showing livestock doesn't come with a cheap price tag. But can you put a price on the life skills a child gains while showing livestock? The child who forges friendships that span species and states. The way parents can let little kids run around the barn, knowing a community of friends are watching over their well being? The trust that is developed between a youth and their animal. Showing livestock is more than just a great feeling or a number in the budget. Showing livestock is a matter of teaching children life long skills. You can't put a price on that. And that's why the cost of showing livestock in the long run is worth it....because it creates youth and future adults that matter. And we need people that matter. Showing livestock -- it matters. It really, truly does.”

Are there politics in showing livestock? Absolutely. Name one thing in life that isn’t influenced by politics. Does it pay to know people? You bet. Showing livestock teaches kids how to network, make friends and build relationships with other breeders, which are important skills for anything a kid might pursue later in life.

Is the champion chosen based on one person’s opinion? You bet. Placing is subjective to personal preference. But there’s always another show and another judge, so every event offers a new chance to have your livestock evaluated by someone different. The reasons behind a placing can help an exhibitor improve their breeding decisions for the next year, and trends in the show ring do influence genetic improvement for the entire beef industry.

Is it expensive to show livestock? Without a doubt. But as I mentioned, despite the cost, it’s a way for us to advertise our cattle, network with other cattlemen, teach kids how to work hard and take pride in how they present themselves and their cattle, and get opinions on our breeding program from others.

Just like anything in life, you get what you put into it. Life isn’t always easy, nor is it fair. But hard work can go a long way in achieving success in and out of a show ring. Sure, the winning livestock are often the most expensive ones in the ring, but if the exhibitor isn’t also willing to pay attention to details and have a good feeding and management program, that calf isn’t going to win. In the end, hard work is still an important factor in showing cattle.

This negative media attention isn’t to be taken lightly. Afterall, perception is reality, and if our consumers start to view this activity in a bad way, it won't bode well for livestock shows in the future. We need to be proactive in changing the rhetoric. First in cleaning house and getting rid of the bad actors in the industry (those who might cheat to win or lose sight of the fact that these are food animals, for example), and then showing spectators the positive side of showing livestock.

READ: Does The Show Cattle Industry Need A Wake-Up Call?

The foundation of showing livestock is still the same. It’s a way for kids to learn how to compete, network, work hard and build up a livestock program. Let’s not lose sight of that message by getting caught up in the negativity.

What do you think of The Washington Post’s take on the showing livestock? How should the industry respond? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 34

Martin Green (not verified)
on Sep 3, 2014

I am a commercial cattleman from eastern Iowa. I believe the article on show animals hits 'the nail on the head'. Families spending 10-70 times the true value of an animal and it is all to win a $25 dollar trophy. The waste of electricity on butt fans and 'coolers' all for he effort to grow hair we don't ever want to eat. Wasting even more money on hair sprays.

Clean up the animals,break then to lead on a halter, and let he kids show them.

Our 'show judges' all sell this crazy show stock which is not functional in commercial feedlot. So they keep picking what there selling. A club calf jockey once said ' champions come out of the side the cow-not out of the back'. Wonderful, just what i want to do. Do a bunch of c-sections on my cows. Idiots!

We need show judges that pick functional, sound cattle that gain 3.8 - 4.5 lbs or more a day while on test. Today most champions ADG is 2.6 - 2.9 (which is a bottom end animal in my feedlot) but they sure do look good in their long hair !

Find some commercial feedlot men to judge shows and get back to reality.

on Sep 3, 2014


I agree 100%!!! We are cattle people but my boys actually show hogs simply because it is a bit "more real," and even that is a stretch. I lost my appetite for showing cattle (or having my sons show cattle) when I watched a local family in action. It was, and always has been, about winning for them which is fine but they went a bit over the top. Please don't get me wrong, this is a nice family, but every morning pre-sunrise while the daughter slept the father would take her bought for club calves (not born on their farm) to the old bomb shelter that was made into a make-shift cooler. This was a small space, and they would place two steers in total darkness with air conditioners blazing...and in the evening after the sun would go down they would be brought out to be washed down with cold water and to be penned during the night. I just didn't get it, and didn't like it, and certainly didn't agree with it. But alas, they had a pretty good track record for winning, so who's right and who's wrong?

I agree that we need to get back to the business of showing cattle that the industry wants, the rancher can improve, and the consumers demand. I would much rather see slick, summer-coat steers where muscle, frame, and fat are clearly displayed! Am I missing something here?

My son has a terrific friend who lives "right across the county line" so he is not allowed to compete in our county Fair. This is tragic, since his farming experiences have come from helping my sons prepare their swine, camped at the Fair with them, and stood on the sidelines as they showed, cheering all the time. It was a shame that he couldn't participate and I even offered to get a hog for him to show simply for "the experience of 4H." But no, rules are rules...and please know that I understand that is just a local rule and perhaps not across the board. But my point is this: Why not get back to the true essence of what the industry is where 4H and county Fairs once were? Perhaps show cattle and hogs should be verified born on the showpersons ranch? Or purchased within the county or the state in which they are showed (except for national or regional shows)? Or, have different for the industry and one for Hollywood. There is nothing wrong with that, either...but I can see where those who "make beef" can become quite frustrated with those who "grow hair." I understand that there are entire operations whose business is selling club calves...and that's okay...but let's differentiate the industry from the show.

In a time when 4H numbers are decreasing (at least in our area) it seems that any hinderence to participation should be looked at. Imagine a time when 4H and equal access to participation is hindered because some families simply can't afford a $3000 club calf? Are we heading in the wrong direction? two cents...back to our canes and swine for showing and we will keep making beef in the pasture and lot.

God Bless America and wishes for a safe, healthy, and prosperous harvest season to all!

Molly (not verified)
on Sep 3, 2014

Well said. In the middle of CA we have started a born and breed class just so the kids with their own small herd can raise and show off their own product. It has helped to bring some reality to our county fair. If the judges had to eat those champion animals they might also think twice!

4-H Parent (not verified)
on Sep 3, 2014

The article couldn't be raising better points and should lead to major changes in 4-H show rings. We saw it first hand this year at our local shows in MN and I talked to 3 other families who said their kids would never participate in livestock showing again because of it. And we are the livestock families in the area. When the winners were all purchased out of state and professional clippers are doing the grooming what have we really taught our youngsters? Even if over time the grooming is done by the kids we have still taught them nothing more than what it takes to buy success.

Concerned parent (not verified)
on Sep 3, 2014

Martin is right. But unforntunately it is just as bad in the sheep and hog rings. Things have gotten incredibly bad. I actually read the Washington Post article and was so thankful that this issue if finally getting attention. When active livestock farms don't let their kids participate in livestock showing because of how bad things have got it is time for a wake up call by the livestock industry.

on Sep 3, 2014

How does it help the industry to admit to the entire Washington Post and its readers that showing livestock is as bad as it seems? Sure, there are bad actors. There's politics. There's the fluff and puff of hair. If we were just focusing on practicality, we would never bring livestock to town for evaluation -- we would just leave them at home and let them grow.

We can't throw the baby out with the bath water here. There's a lot of good that comes from showing livestock. It's not my job to make sure other parents are teaching their kids the right lessons; it's my job to teach my own daughter important life skills -- responsibility, hard work, follow the rules, present yourself and your animal to the best of her ability, etc.

Competition is what it is. Some people will take it too far, and it can ruin it for the rest of us. But instead of focusing on those bad actors, why not focus on what makes livestock shows good?

Maybe there needs to be some change, and we definitely need to remind exhibitors that these are food animals. Showing livestock is certainly a way we can interact with our consumers, and we need to put our best foot forward.

on Sep 3, 2014


You just summed it up in the best possible way: "...if we are just focusing on practicality, we would never bring livestock to town for evaluation..."

Understood. I get it. Compete for competitions sake and raise/teach our children that bad actors exist and it is what is is. Suck it up, get out there, and never mind that politics and money have influenced the outcome of this show long before you put the halter on the calf. Ugh. Sad but true.

Unfortunately, you are correct and that is the way it is and the way it will remain. The rules won't change, and maybe they shouldn't...compete if you can afford to, otherwise, do your best and line up your buyers and consider your victory in the sale price at the large animal sale. But the byproduct, I fear, will be continued diminished 4H participation and yet one more slice of Americana lost to tainted values (or not, depends on which side of the fence you sit on I suppose).

I am just a fan of an equal playing field, at least at the beginning of the competiton, and then to let the better competitor earn the spoils. It just seems that the local ranch kid with the home grown steer will never compete with the expensive super calf. Again, this is not sour grapes, I just would propose a look at some new catagories, perhaps.

Avatar (not verified)
on Sep 4, 2014

Yes, but most of the good happens before walking into the ring. In fact, probably before leaving home. These "youth" shows too often are merely adult play. Face it, the only thing the kid has to do is take the halter (often at the ring entrance) and go in the ring for a while. And in too many cases that's what happens.

on Sep 11, 2014

Amanda, some times we just have to honest with ourselves and call a spade a dirty old shovel. First of all lets not even pretend that club calf shows is part of Industry. This is a hobby grown out of control. Yes I grew up in 4H and Junior shows... but then I grew up and had to learn the "business" all over again. Is it a fun family activity? Yes. Is it good for the Kids? Yes. Is it real? Hell no! Is it good for the industry? No. Did my kid show a steer in the county fair this year? Yes. The experience for kids is wonderful, but it brings out the worst in some overindulgent parents. But in that regard it is no different than Little League Soccer, Junior Gymnastics, Beauty Pageants, and Jr. Rodeo.

on Sep 3, 2014

Here's another perspective worth reading on this topic:

4-H Parent (not verified)
on Sep 3, 2014

I agree with Amanda on most if not all of your posts but this issue has gotten further out of wack than I think you realize. The line you used about not "focusing on those bad actors" is something that I think got us to today where "those bad actors" are the norm! I don't think the livestock industry should sit idly by and let the industry, some of us still make our living through, be represented in the public arena by these so called "bad actors". Again Amanda I think your heart is in the right place but I think you have blinders on to some degree on this issue. It is time for the livestock industry to wake up and it is too bad it takes the Washington Post to start that wake up call (but kudos to that media outlet for realizing alarms need to sound)!

Bart Carter (not verified)
on Sep 3, 2014

Sadly, the article is on point. The show ring is for those with significant money and political power. As registered breeders, we tried for several years with 3 teenage boys to compete. We had very good cattle which we selected from our registered herd and we even spent a little money hiring fitters and coaches. However, we could not compete with those "organizations" that flew their fitters in on airplanes, wined and dined the judges because they were "personal friends".
It is clearly not a level playing field and after about 8 years of giving a good effort we quit!
I appreciate a little light into and dark little secret group. It probably won't make a "tinkers damn"...but at least there is exposure of a significant problem.

Ray (not verified)
on Sep 3, 2014

My kids have been showing 4-h calves at the South Dakota State Fair for the last 13 years. The level of crazy seems to get worse every year. Most of the winning breeding heifers could have walked right from the show ring to the kill floor. A lot of these heifers would have been yield grade threes and fours.

It seems like the winning "clubby" types are panting and frothing at the mouth even on a cool day. I don't know if it is the drugs they use to keep them calm or the shock on the calves systems to have to leave a fan and mister for a half hour.
Changing the shows to a no-fit and slick haired would solve some of the problems. Hair can hide a lot of flaws but why should it?

The sheep deal is just as nuts. Lambs have the tails cut off so short that they will have a rectal prolapse if they sneeze too hard.
To top it off a lot of the winning heifers will be donor cows long before they ever prove their worth as a beef cows.

Avatar (not verified)
on Sep 4, 2014

Slick shearing has been done in Texas major shows (except for Fort Worth, the biggest jock magnet in the world) for 20 years, along with most county shows, and it hasn't made things any better.

R A Jobes (not verified)
on Sep 3, 2014

Livestock shows have been a part of my life for almost 70 years. I showed as a student and I taught vocational agriculture. My son showed and my grandsons showed UNTIL THEY SAID ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. For junior classes I think everyone, almost, are missing what the purpose of the show is supposed to be. The show was designed to be an opportunity for the youth to show the results of their supervised agriculture projects and be able to compare what they have done with their counterparts. It was designed to help them see where they may need to be going with the project.
No longer is it that type of activity. One example I will give is - an individual that buys about 40 steers, puts them into an air conditioned barn to encourage them to grow hair, hires 3 or 4 college students to feed, take care of, break to lead, prepare at shows and then picks the steer to take to a show based on the characteristics the the judge of the particular show selects. The students then go to the show and completely take care of the animals. The young person then shows up to show the animal at the show. WOW, has he learned anything? Probably so, but I would contend he has learned all the wrong things from the showing of animals. And, I am afraid that this attitude is continuing to expand at an alarming rate. Basically shows have become the project and not the learning experience of selecting, taking care of, "loving" the animals before going to the show.

bburgess (not verified)
on Sep 3, 2014

As a previous extension agent who dealt with the 4-H programs in multiple counties, I cant help but agree with the Washington Post article. I enjoy Amanda's comments, but often wonder if the livestock industry is so focused on the "tradition" that it prevents us from coming full circle. In my experience livestock shows do not provide any life skills that cant be attained through FFA or other agricultural educational programs, that actually produce better leadership and livestock skills. The show-ring only creates competitiveness and false assumptions about the reality of the livestock industry. The pressure to compete, the time and resources put into these show animals and the inflated sale price does our future livestock producers no good.
Amanda makes good points about the life skills the show ring helps to develop, but the show ring does not have hold on these leadership qualities.
As an industry I think not addressing the negative aspects does not help us to move forward, if we are not honest with ourselves and admit to certain failures, but take a naïve stance then we will always be in a position of being reactive to these types of articles, and in the end what is that teaching our children?

Also Concerned parent (not verified)
on Sep 3, 2014

I was one of the "city kids" that didn't have a "family farm" to raise my livestock in. I did have a small in town lot that allowed me to have 3 show lambs. I learned valuable lesson about caring for the animals nutritional needs.

I also learned about what the show ring was striving for with appearance. I agree this is different than what the feed lot does but at a young age I could see and understand the "showy" traits of the ring and was able to look for those kinds of animals.

The quality of the sheep industry has improved, in my opinion with the lessons learned by the showing community. The commercial industry will benefit by the lessons learned and paid for by the showing industry. Embryo transfer and artificial insemination were non existent just a few years ago in the sheep industry. I believe the show industry along with commercial seed stock rancher pushed and paid for this technology.

The quality of lamb I'm able to purchase now for my kids are so much better than I showed 25 years ago. I see that same quality improvement in all the small flocks around the area who raise a few show lambs and the rest for commercial purposes. I believe we would have very few if any sheep or hogs in our entire county if it wasn't for the show aspect.

I joined FFA later on only because of my interest in showing lambs and eventually achieved my American Degree. I believe as a result this gave me the edge over other appicants to get my job as an Ag lender.

I believe showing does come at a cost usually more than the animal and premiums will return. If you leave the farm with the animal you incur expenses, when you buy soap to wash and cutters to clip and blankets to cover the animals, you'll have unordinary expenses over a commercial herd. We all just need to accept this other facet of the livestock industry.

My family choses to use our vacation time to attend shows. Some of our vacation budget is allocated for the extra costs the animals incur during our vacation time.

I have friends that send their kids to sports camps during the summer which can cost over $1500 per camp. I feel that is an exorbitant expense but that is their choice. I even played college sports myself which paid for much of my college. I focused on my show projects in the summer which I believe is still paying me back with my profession of 20 years to date.

Each family has to decide how they want to spend their disposable income which hopefully provides more to our children other than a "Mickey mouse" sighting. Some will disagree and I'm fine with that, but I believe my kids will be better prepared adults due to their experiences both good and bad from the show ring.

on Sep 3, 2014

Excellent points! This is how I see this issue, as well. Bravo!

Anonymous Farmer (not verified)
on Sep 5, 2014

and does the $1500 summer sports camp rationalize your feelings?....they are wrong too

on Sep 3, 2014

When I was in 4-H (that's ancient history now) our county fair stock show used a carcass show to determine the champions. The ring was used for showmanship competitions part of which was showing another members animal. It was real competition some days. The actual showmanship abilities of the members was what the competition was about. There was not even a sale. When the show was over the steers were shipped to a slaughterhouse and the entire bunch was hung on the rail together in the cooler and judged on grade and yield. It was called the carcass show and all members came and stood in the cooler with the carcass judges and actually learned what a choice rib-eye looked like. All the beef was purchased at the same price $$-choice $$-good etc... The premium prize money was paid on the steers placement in the carcass show. The best "beef" won the show. Developing real "beef" genetics was the end objective of the whole program. We also had a "on the hoof carcass judging"contest entered by professional judges and the public while the calves were in the show ring. These results were judged against the "actual" carcass data from the cooler and the best on the hoof carcass judge won dinner at the local steakhouse.

thetexaslady (not verified)
on Sep 3, 2014

I agree with the Post. I do not disagree with the ideas put forth by Amana either. Children gain much by showing animals. But here is the piece from the Post article I think is significant: "animals bred for human consumption don’t necessarily look like the ones a judge will pick out of a lineup. Though ostensibly rooted in what makes a meat pig marketable, decisions often come down to the nebulous quality of “eye appeal.” This is completely wrong. Judges should be required to judge based on what makes a pig/cow/goat/sheep marketable. The purpose of a meat animal is to produce meat. To fix some of the problems, there should be classes in show: 1) PP: Purchased Pig: 2) HRP: Home Raised Pig; 3) CBP: County Born Pig; 4) SBP: State Born Pig. Then there could be categories in those areas. Each person in the PP area could have to produce the receipt for the pig, signed by the seller that the receipt represents the full price of the pig, with the name and phone number of the seller to make sure that the price is listed correctly. Then the classes could be made accordingly. PPA: Pigs over $5k; PPB: Pigs from $2,500 to $4,999. PPC: Pigs from $1,000 to $2499. PPD: Pigs from $100 to $999. So each child would have an opportunity to win in their category. Each beginner wouldn't have to buy a $5k pig to win. Then after judging the classes, each class could be combined at the end into one category where a "Grand Champion" pig could be chosen, and it should be that judges should give preference to home bred and county bred pigs. This would be far more fair to the children than to put an $8k pig in the same ring with a $250 pig. I have shown animals for many years, and it is a dog eat dog world. I do not think it is right. Parents or kids that talk bad about another person's animal should be disqualified for showing at that show. After all, we should be teaching kids how to be kind and good when winning or losing. It just shouldn't be that meanness is tolerated. And although winning is wonderful, and I've done my share of it, the experience is what the leaders should focus on. Yes, winning is great, but then you have the pressure of winning the next time, and that comes with winning. And you also have the problem with pride--are you prideful after winning? How will you teach your child to be a good citizen if they are walking around prideful? There are too many things with showing animals that come into play that are painful. If we want more kids involved, it should be fun. And pain and loss can be hard to deal with if you are not taught how to do it before it happens by leaders in the groups.

on Sep 3, 2014

I am quite shocked to see the support and response of the livestock industry to this WP article. Sure, the show ring is different than the pasture. But this article obviously slanted against the show ring and the winners. I grew up showing cattle, horses, sheep and hogs for almost 13 years in 4-H. We would show about 1/2 home-raised cattle and 1/2 purchased, but never spent more than market price on anything we bought in any species. And we did well. My brother and I never won anything big at the state fair, but we competed well at county and district fairs. I knew from the start that other people had better animals, more money and quickly learned how politics played a role. Several of my friends would consistently place above me-but it never bothered me because I wasn't in the show ring to win it all...I was there because it was fun, it's what I did and I was learning the entire time. True, the show ring has become a different industry than most production oriented farms wish to be a part of but the core of showing is still the same. Kids that show learn hard work, animal husbandry, ethics, determination and integrity. They know how to care for their animals, work til the job gets done and be proud of their accomplishments. If people have a ton of money to spend on animals and fitters and all the latest gadgets to win, that's their choice. I know they will probably do better than me but I really don't care because I wasn't in the ring to win every class. Unfortunately I do see fewer and fewer young people in the ring-and I know that part of it is because of this situation. But I know the situation is never going to change and I think young people need to learn that you are going to win and lose in everything and if you work hard, learn and are proud of what you do and have some fun with it...that's what matters. If you quit showing just because you don't really shouldn't have started in the first place in my opinion.

Jmcv02 (not verified)
on Sep 4, 2014

I never spent a penny on purchasing show stock, everything was selected from our purebred/ commercial herd. Nobody was allowed to touch or care for our stock but me. I loved it when I beat all the other competitors that spent a lot more money to "show". Right after the show all the stock went straight to the pasture or to the freezer. All these people complaining sound exactly like the people I used to beat, making excuses but not willing to do the work. I did pretty well showing and I have a stack of ribbons and trophies to prove but the most important thing was even if I didn't win champion my "show" animals are still in the herd dropping a calf every single year, with my oldest right at about 18 yr old now. Every year to anyone who asks we let them select and "borrow" heifers to show for free with the only condition being they return the animals after the shows. Free feed, free publicity, and gentle animals returned with no purchasing expenses to the show kids, it's a heck of a deal for everyone involved.

Avatar (not verified)
on Sep 4, 2014

You will not win many, if any, big shows today with your old method. However, I completely agree with your heifer deal. Transfer the papers and the heifer to the kid, as long as it's done by the ownership deadline, and then transfer both back to the breeder. Some people call this cheating. But what is really the difference between this and actually buying the heifer. All the good things can still be accomplished.

Jmcv02 (not verified)
on Sep 5, 2014

Avatar- sorry but I have a few kids with ribbons that would disagree the "old" method doesn't work today. There's plenty of fancy looking functional cattle out there today. I know a lot of people call this cheating but it's helped a few kids who wouldn't have shown cattle without our help.

on Sep 4, 2014

It's been interesting to read everyone's comments on this issue....when competition gets involved (and there is only one winner), it's important to remember why the competition is being held in the first place. Livestock shows (specifically youth shows, like a jackpot or county fair) are a means that allow youth who are interested in showing to portray their skills, and their animal. I think if you surveyed kids at a jackpot - they all want to win, but those kids also know that there can only be one winner. The skills they gain in that process - preparing for the show, and showing - are ones that are universal, as I mention in my blog post that Amanda so kindly shared.

You could cultivate the same skills playing sports, or being on a livestock judging team, or participating in a youth group. The main thing is that as adults, we need to help provide outlets for kids to develop leadership skills, figure out what their interests are, and then support them in those interests.

David Packham (not verified)
on Sep 4, 2014

Darcy, I didn't see that anyone had an issue with the lessons learned in the process of competition. The issue that I and many others have with what has become of youth shows is the same thing that has happened with little league, in that the parents' egos get involved, and it becomes little more than a battle of checkbooks. The lessons that the kids are supposed to be learning are lost in the din. That's not to say that some don't learn those lessons, but it's in SPITE of the environment that has been created. The unrelated problem that others have touched on is that the show-ring has little, if anything in common with commercial cattle production. How many commercial cattle producers do you know that are looking at a potential herd-sire and say "well, yeah sure, structurally he's great, has great growth EPD's, and is calving ease.....but I don't see that his calves are gonna be hairy enough". While there are people that make their living showing cattle, the vast majority that make their living from cattle do it by growing pounds to put on a truck, and so the many of the lessons in selection taught in the selection of club calves actually does those kids a dis-service if they don't have the proper guidance to put it in perspective.

Best to you and Clint.

Anonymous Farmer (not verified)
on Sep 5, 2014

David, what you are saying is exactly how I see it too....

I have NO PROBLEM with competition. In fact I DO have a problem with 99% of the kids that showed at our fair getting blue ribbons. It demeans the blue, and what in the world is wrong with a red ribbon or a white one - they signify that something wasn't done quite right and needs improving.

LaMar Grafft (not verified)
on Sep 5, 2014

Wow. Some great discussion here. I have not been involved for MANY years. Our county had the typical individual shows as do most of them. Back when I was in 4-H in the 60's, they wanted to have something more practical and brought in a 'cattle feeder's' category. You signed up ahead of time, and the animals were purchased from a single rancher for this purpose. When they arrived, you bought 3 animals that were gate-cut and received their shots, implants and tags. Most animals were not broke to lead or fitted in any way. At fair time, the rate of gain and feed efficiency were calculated. If I was judging it now, I would add a section of questions asked of the youth who raised them regarding what they fed, how they cared for them, etc.
The sad thing in any competition is there will always be some who focus on winning and end up spoiling it for others. While winning is always important, learning how to care for the animal should be the goal. Unfortunately, the cheaters will always figure out a way to rig the system.
If you are concerned about professional fitters, you can have the youth demonstrate how they prepare the animal for the ring. If it seems beyond their skill, it probably was done by someone else.

Martin Green (not verified)
on Sep 5, 2014

Hey Lamar--long time no talk too!

Still using the control grazing system you help me lay out 20 years ago over here in Clinton county..All hi-tensile fence and still doing great

Anonymous Farmer (not verified)
on Sep 5, 2014

After my kids outgrew 4-H, the local county fair eliminated the "Home-raised" category of beef because there were no more. Everyone purchases theirs. The judges are ridiculous and pick "winners" that I wouldn't put or want in my herd. My kids LOVED showing, but we wouldn't buy calves so they rarely won much. And hypocrisy? wow. 4-H stresses "calm animals, broke to halter" and "dressing appropriately in the ring". I've seen MANY kids let their animals run wild and loose in the showring and later WIN THEIR CLASS. I have no respect for these shows.

Martin Green (not verified)
on Sep 5, 2014

Lots of different viewpoints on whether 4-H kids learn anything. I think they learn some valuable skills they can use later in life but a lot of them see that the almighty 'checkbook' is great way to get to the top fast----if you can convince 'Grandpa and Grandma or Mom and Dad' to whizz away some cash then they too can have a nice banner and trophy.

There is also a lot of 'parents vs parents' squaring off in the show ring because 25 years ago you beat me so now I am going beat you thru my kid. What a great scene that is ! (had to throw in a little sarcasm)

MT rancher (not verified)
on Sep 11, 2014

Like it or not, it appears the Washington Post article pretty much hits nail on the head for many of us. That is not to say that your "hard work, principles, ethics for our children" slant is not without merit. If the children are indeed the ones doing the work. Over 40 years of State/County/4H Fair participation and observation has shown me that the children's "hard work" is extremely overstated; it is more of a romantic notion than one that is based on the reality. Yup, that is a blanket statement; but I believe it covers 80% of the participants.

As for a chance to for Registered Breeders to "...showcase their product." I will politely refute that premise by saying that I have not and will never give any additonal merit to a breeder just because they decide to camp at the Fair for a week. I have personally bought probably 500 bulls in my lifetime, I can honestly say that not even one of those purchases was influenced by a breeders participation in a State/County Fair. I would argue the opposite in fact.

As stated before, many of us have a pasture full of cows that will likely outperform almost all of the "show cattle" in the REAL world. We just decide to put up hay, check water, and generally tend to ranch work instead of do what many perceive as superfluous.

on Sep 13, 2014

There is another dark side to this situation that does affect the whole industry. And that is the club calves that do not make the cut for the air conditioned barns and the tan bark of the show ring. These cattle go into commercial feedlots and then to packing plants. Unfortunately they are terribly unsound and do not travel well. One of the most painful scenes that I have ever witnessed was watching a bunch of club calves being unloaded into a feedlot. They were all lame and stayed lame for some time. It was not the truck, or the trip, it was their post legged bone structure designed for the show ring. Our industry has been in some turmoil over Zilmax causing lameness in cattle coming into packing plants. We have since discovered that Zilmax is not the cause. I suspect that poor structure and the resulting lameness is caused by club calf breeders making the picture perfect show winner. You know the one I mean...the grand champion steer that can barely walk across the ring.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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