The way Julius Johnson, Tennessee's Commissioner of Agriculture, remembers it he was near the end of his rope ... and so was his Black Angus show heifer.
The judging in the livestock show ring had taken forever. So when the announcement finally came that he had won, Johnson dropped his arms in an exaggerated display of relief. The quick motion startled the heifer, causing her to jump wildly.
"It was a little embarrassing," he confides now. "I won, but there is a correct way to act even when you're winning. I shouldn't have done that."
Even today at 63, Commissioner Johnson regrets the incident but says lessons he learned in the show ring - both good and bad - helped shape his life and career.
"(Livestock showing) taught me to stay cool and calm and be prepared," he says of his FFA years at Alvin C. York Agricultural Institute in Fentress County, Tenn. "You have to understand how to prepare your animal to show to its best ability. In other words, you stretch a heifer out to enhance its qualities. You've got to know its desired traits to make your animal show its best. Like in life, you've got to know what the public wants, and try to enhance the opportunities you have."
"Livestock showing taught me to stay cool and calm and be prepared."
Since many of you are either starting or just finishing up your livestock show season, now is a good time to evaluate your own career path. Are the lessons you are learning in the show ring preparing you for a career in agriculture?
Without even realizing it, FFA members who show livestock are developing character traits that will carry them throughout life - regardless of their career choice. Discipline, patience, goal-setting, making friends, teamwork, project planning and management, math and, of course, a good work ethic are all traits employers seek.
Livestock exhibitors also pick up practical agriculture knowledge and experience, such as breed identification, quality and yield grades, breed characteristics, animal health care, animal behavior, nutrition, marketing, animal husbandry, record-keeping and budget management.
Say you don't want to farm? That's OK - only 2 percent of the population does. Yet, agriculture covers a myriad of disciplines from which to choose.
Got a head for business? Consider your own pet or feed store or farm supply. Got the gift of salesmanship? Animal pharmaceutical companies and agricultural equipment dealers would love to have you.
For animal-loving FFA members, the future is limited only by your imagination: food scientists, ag communications, meat inspectors, biomedical research, animal genetics, livestock buyer or consultant, ag teacher, or extension agent.
What's at the end of your rope? For Julius Johnson back then, it was one heifer. Today, it's the entire agriculture industry of his state - a career that began in FFA livestock shows.
"Those were the good times," the commissioner recalls wistfully. "Traveling to the shows, sleeping on the hay, and getting your animal washed and groomed. It was a lot of good camaraderie with your friends, a lot of fun."