Having grown up showing cattle through 4-H and FFA, August always brings fond memories of county and state fairs. Although it has been many years since I've felt the thrill of leading a steer into the show ring for competition, I know that many of the lessons I learned during my showing days are still with me.
And, having our oldest child turn 8 last month, I'm eager for him to start experiencing some of the same.
I know that in recent years as times seem to have gotten busier and costs have gone up, many families have stepped away from the extra expense of showing livestock. With my budget-minded husband, we've had that very conversation at our house. But nonetheless, I believe there are many important values that young people gain from showing livestock - such as work ethic and responsibility - which is something they'll carry with them their whole lives. It truly is an education with many practical applications to the beef industry and beyond.
Here are some of the lessons that have stayed with me:
Genetics and nutrition are the foundation. As a young 4-H'er, I quickly recognized that to find success with your calf in the show ring, a good investment in quality genetics and being educated about properly feeding and caring for your animal is essential. Most successful cattlemen today recognize that as well. Genetics and nutrition are key to producing quality cattle that perform well in the industry, and ultimately for the consumer.
It's hard work, but it's worth it. My siblings and I spent the better part of every summer day working with our livestock - from halter breaking, washing and clipping our animals to cleaning out the barn. It was definitely work, but our reward was going to the show, having a good time with other families, and, sometimes winning the champion plaque or buckle. I learned responsibility, organization and planning ahead, and how to work with others - my sister and two brothers! Today, that work ethic has carried over into my own career. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment from a good days work - and I think many in agriculture feel the same.
Details count. Probably one of my favorite lessons is the fact that paying attention to details does make a difference. At the show, keeping the stalls and animals clean makes a good impression - on competitors and the non-ag public. Presenting an animal that has been clipped and fit to make him look his best also makes a difference. And, most importantly, when you are in the show ring, pay attention to your competitors and the judge. If he waves you into the top spot and you miss his call, someone else might be moved to the top of the class. In life, details count as well. Anyone can be average, but it's the extra details that can make each of us extraordinary. Likewise, we need to pay attention to the industry around us, work to keep the non-ag public informed about agriculture and keep making a good impression.
Sometimes you're not meant to win - and that can be the greatest lesson of all. My family was fortunate in that we earned several grand or reserve champion titles with our cattle and showmanship skills. But, looking back, while I remember the winning moments, my sharpest memories are of the times I didn't win. And, I realize that those were the experiences that shaped my success the most. Of course, you have that moment where losing doesn't feel so good, but handling defeat fueled me to keep competing, correct my mistakes, review the details, and work harder. There is no greater life lesson than that. No matter what life hands you, you pick your self up, stay positive, and keep moving forward.