Farmer Friday: Showing Cows
Most people recognize, regardless of their background, that the benefits of growing up on a farm are numerous. Being outdoors with room to run, being less likely to develop allergies and asthma, frequent interactions with nature and having time for quiet reflection are reason enough to long for the farm life. Lessons about life and death, happiness, community, independence, responsibility, hard work and sacrifice are the vegetables that any parent would be happy to feed their child.
Fear not, non-farmers; there is hope. Not every farmer was born on the farm and not every farm kid was always enthusiastic about the lifestyle. Some farmers are born and others are called into action…and if you’re looking to catch the farming bug, there may be no better place to visit than your local County Fair.
Many dairy farmers identify participating in their local 4-H Program and showing cows as the time that farming clicked and they knew they wanted to work with cows for a living.
Just as many school kids learn responsibility by jointly taking care of fish or hamsters in the classroom, many farm kids and 4-Her’s (many of whom do not come from a farm background) are learning to care for farm animals – not just at the fair, but throughout the year. Giving kids the responsibility of feeding, grooming and training their cow and getting her ready to show is priceless. Showing cows helps children and young adults learn how to interact with their animals and familiarizes them with the terminology and basic knowledge that may help them to someday care for a herd themselves.
The competition and ability to put your favorite cow up against your neighbors is fun, but showing cows is more about learning, building confidence and working together with your friends and neighbors. Many friendships are forged through 4-H and in showing cows – among both the showmen and the animals.
This week we asked a few enthusiastic Dairy Cattle showmen and women to share their experience at the fair and in the ring. It’s also worth noting that despite being from four different states, all of our featured farmers this week know each other well – a happy side effect of showing cows!
Grace Peckham, age 11, from Elm Farm in Woodstock, CT
Colten Bornkessel, age 5, and his mom, Courtney Hodge, from Echo Farm in Hinsdale, NH
Nicole Fletcher, Fletcher Farm in Southampton, MA
Joanna Lidback, The Farm at Wheeler Mountain in Barton, VT
Where do you typically show cows?
Grace: I show cows at the Windham County 4-H Fair at the Brooklyn Fairgrounds in Brooklyn Connecticut and at the Woodstock Fair in Woodstock, Connecticut. I am hoping someday I will be able to show at the Big E but not yet.
Colten: We showed at the Cheshire Fair, our county fair in Swanzey, NH, and the Guilford Fair in Guilford, VT. Our next show is the Big E. The Milking Shorthorn show is Tuesday, September 22nd.
Courtney: I have been showing at our county fair for as long as my family has had cows (26 years). We also show at a small fair 2 towns away, Guilford Fair, which is an outstanding show for our younger exhibitors. Our major show is the Northeast National Milking Shorthorn Show, which is held during the Big E in West Springfield, MA. Every 7-8 years, we have a heifer special enough to take out to the World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI (the Super Bowl of cow shows!)
Nicole: My family began showing cows at the local 4-H fairs. Today, we show at 3-4 local county fairs, and the Big E each year.
Joanna: We show cows locally now, but we used to go to bigger shows like the Big E. We also visited the World Dairy Expo and the North American International Livestock Expo.
When did you start showing? How did you get involved?
Grace: I started showing a year ago this was my second year at showing. I decided to show when I became a member of the Happy Herdsmen 4-H Club.
Colten: Because I like cows and mommy shows cows. (He forgets when he started showing cows, and looks to mom for help. She tells him his first calf was Catamount when he was 16 months old – barely walking and we had him in the ring)
Courtney: I started showing in 1988 through 4-H.
Nicole: I originally started showing at the age of 12. I visited some local fairs, and met some other farm kids that did 4-H. I was really interested, so I got my very own show calf that year and have been showing ever since!
Joanna: I started showing as soon as I could! (Joanna wrote a blog post called ‘I wasn’t born on a farm, but I got here as soon as I could’ on her blog, Farm Life Love)
What is your favorite part of showing cows?
Grace: My favorite part of showing cows is that I get to train a cow how to walk on a halter and follow me wherever I go. Another reason is because I can see how much my calf cares about me and if I’m sad she will cuddle with me. If I am scared she becomes scared I feel like cows are so understanding to me.
Colten: I like getting my cow ready for the show, Clipping is my favorite part. I like being with my cows. (Courtney asks him ‘why?’) I love them because they do nice things. My cow, Poppyseed, gives kisses.
Courtney: My favorite parts of showing are the friendships and the competition, but the friendship piece is the most important. For farmers, cow shows are like vacation! We only have to care for a handful of cows, instead of the whole herd and we all get time to catch up with each other – to find out what is going on in everyone’s lives and what’s new on the farm. We have a group of friends who have shown with us for the past 15 years, each year the crew is a little different based on school, jobs, what coast they are on, etc. but on very rare occasions, we all get to be together – this year will be one of those years. I am looking forward to sharing 4 days with these friends doing what we love. The competition part of the show is extremely exciting, like butterflies in your stomach exciting! It is great to be able to compare your animals against other farms, finding out if the breeding decisions you made 1-2 years ago paid off, how your animal care strategies are working and to test your showing skills. Standing in the ring with your heifer waiting for the judge to make his first pull to see where you stack up is an amazing feeling – it’s a fun kind of nervousness that is like the moment you crest the top of a huge hill on a rollercoaster, right before you go speeding down!
Nicole: My favorite part of showing cows is the comradery between the exhibitors. Most of the exhibitors are fellow farmers, and often times the fair is one of the best places to catch up and visit with them. Since farmers are so busy most of the year, the fair is the perfect farmer hangout. I also really enjoy bringing out my best cattle to show against others as a measure of how my genetics compare to others.
Joanna: My favorite part of showing is the sense of community and the teamwork between family and friends in working together to get the cows/heifers looking their best.
Do you have a favorite cow you’ve shown?
Grace: My favorite cow is probably Bambi, my Jersey yearling. The reason is because she was so well trained and she was usually calm in the ring. I love showing cows no matter how hard they are to train I will stick with it and show on!
Colten: Poppyseed! (Colten showed her in 2013 as a calf, he was 3 and she was 3 months – he showed her again this Labor Day – he is 5 and she is a 2 year old milk cow)
Courtney: My favorite cow in the barn today is Persnickety, but my favorite show cow of all was Sprite – she was a challenge in the ring to get her looking her best and really tested my showing ability. I love showing the cows that like to strut, the ones that hold their heads high and love to show off. That was not Sprite – she was massive and far from dainty, but when you had her awake and really worked her in the ring she could look like the super model cows!
Nicole: I think forever and always my favorite cow that I have ever showed will be the first one, Emma. She taught me so much and lived to be almost 13 years old. She showed for many of those years, and taught me how it felt to lose (she wasn’t the best calf) and win (she was a great cow). I miss having her standing in the show string to this day.
Joanna: I’ve had many favorites. Annabelle was my first. Kirby was fun and did well at the Big E. Clover was a project heifer who was short-aged and ended up 2/10 at the Big E. Most recently, Rhiannon was my favorite and we lost her unexpectedly this summer. It broke my heart. Even tearing up as I write this!