As a stereotypical city girl who’s starstruck by skyscrapers, taxi cabs and window-shopping luxury fashion brands, going to my first cow show was definitely a new experience for me. I didn’t know much about agriculture, livestock or farming in general. But when a close friend of mine invited me to see his family show their cattle one weekend, I couldn’t say no to this new opportunity! I was able to learn so much about the agriculture industry and the countless hours spent in the barn that it takes to raise champion animals.
I had no clue what a cow show was. Dictionary.com told me it was “an exhibition of prize cattle by cattle breeders, as at a livestock exposition.” What was that supposed to mean? My first instinct was somewhat along the lines of a beauty pageant for cows. After all, the cattle are getting judged on appearance and other phenotypical breed traits. However, I learned that it is so much more than this.
When we first pulled up to the giant tented area after driving two hours from Gainesville to DeLand, Florida, I was so eager to see all of the farm animals. I stepped out of the car and immediately heard mooing and smelled the livestock as expected. What I didn’t expect was to be able to get so close to the cattle and actually be able to pet them. In fact, I was able to walk right up to some and gently stroke their backs. Every animal I met was so calm and well-mannered, and each of the owners were so kind.
I learned so many of the different techniques used to groom the cows and keep them in line for showmanship, which is one’s ability to control the animal to bring out its best characteristics. A show stick is used place the cow’s feet, straighten out the top line of the cow to make sure its back is straight and to calm the animal down in general. There are so many different tools used to keep the cattle looking their best before show time. For example, there are different types of brushes that make the cow’s hair stand up to elongate certain features. There are also touch up paint spray cans to spritz in any areas of the cow that might need a color refresher, extra dimension or fullness so the cow can look its best come performance time.
Showmanship isn’t just about judging the connection one has with his or her animal. It also tests the knowledge of the shower on the structure of the animal as well as what they would like to see improved the next time around. It isn’t just standing pretty in the rink with a collared shirt and a studded belt; it is all about understanding the dynamics around the livestock and being able to put it into words while under pressure as the judge makes his or her way around.
Another thing I learned is that anyone can show livestock. One doesn’t need to have years of experience under their belt in order to compete; it can be pursued by anyone at any age. However, it is particularly important to learn sportsmanship rather quickly because there is no such thing as “competition points” or medals because “everyone is a winner” in the rink. Rather, one must learn how to be a humble winner or a gracious loser, which is easier said than done.
As cliché as it sounds, a lot of blood, sweat and tears go into this business. Dedication is a key factor to consider because it is thoroughly instilled on the farm by learning techniques, utilizing the most effective feeding programs and most importantly, caring for the animals. Competing in livestock shows and raising championship animals is a job that take 365 days of the year. Often times, these animals get sick with diseases and must be taken to get medical treatment immediately. This is not the easiest thing to do, and it does not guarantee financial reimbursement. What it does guarantee, however, is experience, entrepreneurship and money management. Life on the farm truly brings out the circle of life because you have to say goodbye to animals at times but you also bring new life into the world almost every day.
Overall, this was an incredible experience, and I am so thankful to have been able to stay with a loving family who is so passionate about agriculture and livestock. I was able to learn so much about the industry just by watching their preparation for each show category and asking questions on what each of the tools or techniques meant. Yes, I would still consider myself a city gal, but now I have a much greater appreciation for cattle shows and am looking forward to the next time I will be able to attend one.