Thursday, August 31, 2017

"She's a City Girl, in a Farming World"

While helping out at the local 4-H and FFA judging contest was fun, my favorite part of the fair this year was introducing another teacher from our school to the country life. K grew up in the city, living both on the east coast and in Chicago, but has called Iowa her home for the past sixteen years.

The afternoon started with a text message. “Can I wear sandals?” Immediately, my mind balked. This was the day of the steer show at county fair, which is arguably more important than prom. It calls for your best Miss Me jeans, your good boots, and a cute new tank. No one would dare wear sandals! Eventually though, I looked at it from her point of view. It was hot and she wanted to be comfortable. “Yes,” I said, “as long as you are careful where you walk!”

When we arrived at the grounds, the first order of business was the 4-H exhibit hall. We saw our student’s paintings, photography, woodworking, and more. She even watched the baby chicks in the incubator.

After the indoor exhibits, we headed to my favorite place on the fairgrounds, the cattle barns. The cattle barns have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I started showing on my own when I was eight, but spent every summer before that helping my older brother groom his heifers. Stepping into the dimly lit interior, I take a deep breath. The smell of Pink Oil, Kleen Sheen, and wood chips always makes me think the same thing. Home. There is nowhere on earth I feel more at home than moving through the aisles of a barn. It is my favorite place to be and never ceases to make me smile.

One of our students was leading her heifer back to the stall and she stopped so K could touch it. Years of working with show cattle had me verbally protesting as she swiped her hand backwards over the hair.  “Forward!” I cried, cringing. “You are going to ruin it!” My student smiled and nodded appreciatively. Not seeing a scotch comb in reach, I ran my fingers through the heifer’s fine black hair and tried to re-fluff the spot. It didn’t matter that she was already done showing for the day and was headed back to lay down. My OCD wasn’t having it! I simply could not send that poor animal to her stall with an imperfect style. What would all of the other cattle think!

We continued our travels to the rabbit and sheep barn, finally heading to the farrowing display at the hog barn. K was wide-eyed at the baby piglets and snapped pictures of them on her phone. Continuing on, met another student who was showing swine and K got to pet her first pig. She was amazed that it had such coarse hair, actually she was amazed that it had hair at all! After chatting with the students lounging in the stalls, it was time for the big moment. The steer show was due to start at 2:00.

Squeezing into seats near the holding pens, I tried to explain the basics of what the judge was looking for. Muscle, eye appeal, and finish. While I sat in rapt attention, mentally measuring my choices against those of the judge, K was getting more nervous by the second. The fence between us and the holding pen is only about waist high and K was terrified that one of the steers was going to get loose.

“We will be fine,” I told her. “There are plenty of guys around to catch it if one gets loose.” K wasn’t convinced, but we managed to make it to the end of the show without any catastrophes.

Talking about the adventure with the students the following day at lunch, they wondered how anyone could live in small town Iowa and have never touched a pig. One of the mom’s spoke up and said, “I guess we take it for granted that everyone in the area has been around the farm." 

While K and I come from opposite walks of life, it was fun for her to see her students in a different light and fun for me to watch her experience this life that I am blessed to be able to take for granted. She even managed to keep her fresh pedicure cow pie free! A great day all around. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Making the Cut

Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work at a youth livestock judging contest. If you have never judged livestock, the premise is simple. Select the best breeding and market animal from the four presented in the ring and circle the order on your card. Sounds easy, right? It really is that easy, except, it is not. Here is why.

The classes presented at the contest were broken down into categories of breeding animals and market animals. Each animal had a class in both of these categories. For example, heifers showed under breeding, while steers showed under market. The same held true for the swine and the sheep. Where it becomes complicated is when the judges introduced their cuts.

If you are not familiar with this term, do not be alarmed, several of the youngsters did not know what it meant either. Cuts essentially help calculate scores by giving a numerical difference between where the animals in the class are placed. I have included a link below from the University of Nebraska's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources to further explain how scores are calculated.

In the end, our 4-H and FFA members did an outstanding job and it was fun to watch our judges, one a former student and the other a 4-H member from Scott County work the ring and give their reasons. It is a true testament to the power of the industry that our youth not only build their careers around it, but they respect it enough to want to teach the next generation to make informed decisions on quality and marketability.