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Investing In Our Youth Is Planting Seeds For The Future

County fair season is quickly approaching, and for a lot of kids, summers are spent in the barn working on livestock projects in anticipation of the big show.

Growing up showing in 4-H, FFA, and junior breed events, I have fond memories of my family packing the pickup and trailer and traveling the country headed to shows with cattle in tow.

Ask anybody who has shown, and they can rattle off the championships earned and favorite animals they’ve exhibited. However, it’s not the banners, buckles, and trophies earned, but the lessons learned along the way that matter most.

Making friends who share similar interests. Shaking the judge’s hand no matter the outcome. Winning with humility. Losing graciously. Learning from mistakes. Striving to be better at the next show. Acquiring new skills to present your animal more professionally. Gaining newfound confidence with time, patience, and practice. Putting in the long hours. Showing up each day. Setting goals and achieving them. 

The journey is truly the reward, and it never gets old watching kids come into their own through these programs. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as our family begins a new chapter in our showing career, with the next generation — our oldest daughter — working on a heifer with plans to step into the show ring for the very first time at the South Dakota State Fair at the end of August.

What a joy it is to relive this fun part of my childhood and watch as our daughter works with her heifer with great determination and dedication. It requires a lot of hours in the barn, and thankfully, her heifer is a sweetheart, and the pair seem to be getting along quite well so far.

There’s definitely a learning curve involved, and you can’t skip some of the growing pains that comes with learning how to lead, brush, wash, lead, set up, clip, and show a beef animal. 

However, we are enjoying the process together as a family, and although show day is weeks away, we already feel like we’ve won the victory. You just can’t beat quality time spent in the barn working as a team!

Our family recently attended a cattle show, where I was invited to read my children’s book, “C is for Care” as part of a story-time entertainment before the main event. During the show, our kids were glued to the side of the ring, and I was surprised how much they observed and learned just watching the older kids in action.

I give a lot of credit to the learning to the judge that day, who understood very well that these projects are much more than just presenting an animal well. Showing cattle is about developing our kids as they prepare to become the next generation of leaders in the beef industry.

The judge spent a lot of time with each kid, offering pointers and gentle critiques, and he shared with the crowd the same pieces of advice and encouragement. I appreciated his patience and his willingness to really invest time in the kids, and I was shocked to hear my kids parroting some of the advice the judge had shared during the show.

I didn’t realize how much they had picked up until we were back at home in the barn working on calves.

“Mom, the judge says you have to hold the halter like this…”

“Dad, did you know you always have to turn across the nose?”

“Mom, the judge says you have to slow down with the show stick.”

And the list went on and on.

It may seem like a little thing to some, but to this mom, I appreciate every single volunteer, judge, show coordinator, event sponsor, and parent who takes the time to pour their time and energies into shaping our young people. 

The world may be going crazy in a lot of ways, but in the barn and out in the show ring, hard work, content of character, professionalism, and a “never-quit” attitude are still highly valued. And I now it’s those same skills that will lead this country in a positive direction. It truly takes a village to raise a child, and I’ll forever be thankful for the agricultural community for stepping up to the plate for these kids. 

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