Ovine and Bovine and Porcine, Oh My!

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A deep dive into my experience at livestock shows coming from a non-agriculture background. 

As a Midwesterner, agriculture is not far removed from my daily life. My dad is in the produce industry, and my family has ties to small farms in Missouri and Oklahoma. I can’t even run an errand without passing corn fields, grazing cattle or at the very least, a man in overalls. So, when an internship at BioZyme Inc. became available, I didn’t think much of the environment that awaited me. 

Due to COVID-19, my internship was shortened, which meant spending only one week in the office before hitting the road to make appearances at five junior nationals including the National Junior Swine Summer Spectacular. I came trained on the needs of cattlemen and the products BioZyme produces to alleve the biggest livestock stressors, but nothing quite prepared me for the actual show atmosphere. 

I don’t know if you all know this, but there are cattle everywhere! They’re strolling through the parking lot, taking showers near the concession stand and casually waiting in just about every common area of the building. Having never attended a livestock show, I imagined the cattle would be kept out of sight in distant barns with their own private paths. But, no! 

The biggest challenge was restraining my desire to walk right up to stroke a heifer right between the eyes. Something about that large, fuzzy face and gentle expression just called to me. I was instructed that cattle are not quite the same as a family dog, and it might be strange to waltz around the ring petting finely manicured steers. 

Now, I know what you must be thinking, if the presence of cows at a cow show was shocking to this girl, then she’s going to be in for a wild ride. Well, you’d be entirely right. Aside from the mere existence of the cattle, I was also bewildered by the showing process. 

I had questions about every little thing; the show stick and its many uses, the cans of glue and spray paint strewn about, the constant circling and repositioning and most importantly, what exactly was being judged. That first week I couldn’t identify hardly any differences between the cattle, let alone which one looked best! 

Over the course of the week, I picked up a bit of the lingo. I think I could even give a semi-convincing evaluation. That is, as long as my audience didn’t know anything either. Here’s my attempt. 

This is a fine example of what a heifer should look like. She’s got a lot of power behind her paired with a nice, feminine shoulder and neck. I’m a big fan of her lean musculature as well as the way they’ve groomed her longer fur. I can also appreciate her frame. I would like to see her a bit more tight-chested in that connection between belly and neck. Overall, she’s been presented well and shows a lot of great qualities. 

How was that? Does it sound pretty legit? I think it’s not too bad. 

The pig show was a different experience entirely. I’ll be honest, I don’t think pigs are quite as cute as cows which knocked it down a peg. However, it was still fun to jump into a new atmosphere. 

The guiding whips and shrieking of pigs made the whole event feel a bit like a preschool. I especially enjoyed the notion of pig boards and the possibility of all-out brawls during the show (another preschool-esque quality). I never saw one of these fights, but I did secretly wish for one. 

After some reflection, I’ve decided the most significant feature of these events to me was not the competition, but the overall atmosphere. It wasn’t just about who had the best livestock. It was about a larger experience oriented toward family, education and lifestyle. 

It’s admirable that the junior shows put such a focus behind supporting youth and providing them with an unforgettable week. I took note of activities including dunk tanks, relays, crafts, concessions and more. 

The breed delegate program was one of my favorite aspects of the livestock show world. As a member of an honorary fraternity, I have a great deal of respect for young people in leadership and the efforts it takes to organize anything on a large-scale. 

I also really appreciated the chance to delve into a world I barely knew existed a month ago. It made me recognize the number of life-consuming passions that must be out there. The human ability to come together and create something bigger than themselves is simple yet so inspiring. 

Prior to my internship, the concept of livestock shows was an itty-bitty pinpoint on my mind’s map. Over the past few weeks, I was given the opportunity to take a much closer look at that pin, and it widened my entire worldview.

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