Lessons Learned From Showing Livestock
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Livestock shows have been a part of rural life for generations. Around show season, I often speak with members of our county livestock associations who have retired from ranching, but can retell stories of their first time in the show ring like it was yesterday. Memories and comradery are a big part of showing livestock, but it is also an important time for young people to lean skills which will help them be successful in any career they may choose.
The journey of showmanship begins with animal selection. Youth learn how to research. If it is their first year, they learn about the species they are showing, and what desirable traits are for either a breeding or market animal. They will learn about breeds and characteristics of each breed. They learn how to identify desirable traits and make well thought out decisions. As they grow and mature, they must learn how to grow from mistakes made in past decisions.
Next, youth must learn about proper animal care. Proper nutrition is a key part of this. Youth showman must understand how the rumen works and what type of diet is essential to raising a quality animal. They must learn about protein, fiber, macro, and micro nutrients and understand why they are needed to raise a healthy animal. A good vaccination plan is crucial, and showmen will learn how to administer vaccines properly, as well as monitor their animal for disease and parasites, and treat when needed. There is no anatomy or biology textbook that can teach what this hands-on training can.
As youth begin to prepare for the show, they must spend a lot of time with their animal. A show animal must be halter broke, which requires time and patience. They must be properly groomed, including washing, brushing, and drying. Also, they must receive proper exercise, both for good muscle development and to practice walking like they will be expected to in the ring. These are responsibilities of the showman, and raising a quality show animal requires a tremendous amount of responsibility, which must be learned in order to be rewarded on show day.
Finally, show day is here. Participants must now exhibit professional dress. They must have a good presence in the ring, properly guiding and showing their animal to the judge. They should be ready to answer questions clearly and with confidence. Any of these skills sound familiar? A good showman will grow up to be a better public speaker and have the skills they need to excel in job interviews and when working with others.
These are just a few of the character traits that can be learned by showing livestock. Show season is well underway in our area, so please come out and support our young people. If you have children, be sure to guide and encourage them with their livestock projects, but maybe let them learn a few of these hard lessons on their own. With the skills they are learning, they will not only become the next generation of livestock producers, they will be better citizens, better decisions makers, and have the skills to become the policy makers and leaders in our communities. Whether these young people end up with a career on the farm, on Wall Street, or in Washington, they will always understand the importance of agriculture, where their food comes from, and be advocates for our industry.
Zack Taylor is the Agriculture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.