What do you get when you mix a hard-working family with passion for the livestock industry with ten days each year of family, friends and fun and combine two generations of memories all taking place in one place? It’s the Schafer family sharing their Illinois State Fair experiences!
Aaron and Sue Schafer, along with their children Eric and Lizzie, are full of passion for the livestock industry – from raising pigs and cattle to selling and showing them on the state and national levels – this family foursome is synonymous with work ethic that’s paid off with success. Not only have Aaron and Sue passed on their love of livestock to the next generation, they are passing on the tradition of exhibiting at the Illinois State Fair.
Starting the Legacy
Sue, who is originally from northern Illinois, recalls that she started showing at the State Fair when she was 12 years old. Although she always had the desire to show other species, her family exclusively showed cattle.
“Every year, my grandpa always bought the grandkids a calf,” Sue recalls. “I started with a Shorthorn steer and had a Shorthorn steer every year. When we had too many grandkids competing against each other, I switched over to an Angus, so it wasn’t until my teenage years that I started showing Angus at the State Fair.”
Sue got her wish and showed pigs at the State Fair between her freshman and sophomore year at Black Hawk College, where she met her now-husband Aaron, as they both attended on livestock judging scholarships.
Aaron’s family, from Pana, south of Springfield, Ill., raised hogs and row crops. He said he didn’t show at his first State Fair until he was 14 or 15, and then he didn’t go every year, only when his breeding stock was good enough. He said the first year he took Hampshire gilts for the junior show and followed with Hamps and Durocs in years when he had the quality worth taking.
The Next Generation
After attending Black Hawk College and Iowa State, Aaron and Sue married and started Schafer Stock Farm at Owaneco, Ill., where they raise Angus cattle and Berkshire pigs. They started a family, and their son, Eric, who will be a senior in high school this fall said because of the way his birthday falls, he showed at his first State Fair when he was 9, exhibiting a couple Angus heifers. By his third year, Eric had added gilts to the mix. Eventually he showed market lambs, and now is back to showing predominately Angus heifers, barrows and gilts.
Younger sister Lizzie, an incoming high school sophomore, also started showing in the junior show when she was 9; however, one of her favorite memories happened when she showed in the pee wee pig show when she was just 3.
“The pig pee wee show is probably one of my favorite memories from State Fair because I was able to do that, and the prizes were toys. I was also able to be the pee wee princess when I was 4 years old; I had a crown and had a sash made out of paper towels. It’s very fun and lots of fun to watch the little kids out there, still,” Lizzie said.
The pee wee pig show is the last day of the Illinois State Fair and is reserved for young exhibitors who might have shown at jackpots all summer but are yet too young to compete at the 4-H show at State Fair. Sponsored and organized by adult volunteers, the prizes consist of candy and toys like hoola hoops, frisbees, water toys, scooters and such. Both Eric and Lizzie have served as volunteer ring help at the show in recent years as a way to serve as role models.
This year Lizzie is preparing two Angus heifers and a Simmental heifer for the State Fair.
Part of the show prep for the younger generation that their parents didn’t have includes using products like Sure Champ® and Vita Charge® Liquid Boost® to help them feel and look their best on show day. The entire family says they like the end results, and even use the VitaFerm® mineral line on their cows.
Both the Schafer siblings agree that the fair is a great place to make memories – both inside and outside of the showring. Some of their best times are spent with friends, but they also have set goals, worked hard and enjoy the satisfaction of achieving those goals when the judge shakes their hand.
Both Eric and his dad agree one of their favorite memories is when Eric won Grand Champion Land of Lincoln (bred and born in Illinois) Barrow in the open show with a York last year. Aaron said although they have experienced success in the Angus and gilt shows, the market hog show is competitive, and he enjoyed seeing the hours of hard work pay off.
“I was involved in the entire process from picking him out, feeding, caring for him and getting him ready to show. I practically slept with that pig the last two weeks! I had an invested stake in the barrow and to be that involved with him was very special. All my family was there, and we were all able to enjoy it together,” Eric said.
Lizzie agrees that seeing hard work payoff is special.
“When I was showing sheep and was in a premier market lamb class, I had the Reserve Champion Premier Market Lamb and Champion Land of Lincoln Market Lamb. I had been working really hard with my sheep all summer, and it was just really awesome to see my hard work pay off,” she said.
Sue shares a special winning memory too.
“I had a white Shorthorn steer that won his class. That was pretty important to me. He came from Sammy Ehrnthaller, and we paid $325 for him. We bought him at the Princeton Club Calf Sale. I remember thinking 325 bucks for a steer is insane,” she recalls of the memory, when the Shorthorn breed was dominant in Illinois.
“When I get to the State Fair, I like to go find my friends and hang out with them because the memories made at the State Fair will last forever. I can pretty much walk around the state fairgrounds and remember what happened at this place and what happened at that place because I feel like I have memories almost everywhere and in every single barn,” Lizzie recalls. “My very favorite place is Barn 36C where we stall (cattle) because my best friend and I have hung out there for several years together.”
Eric likes the hustle of having both his cattle and pig worlds come together – including those friendships.
“I like having everybody I know from both species there. I’ve got friends from Northern Illinois that I show hogs with that come down. I have friends from Southern Illinois that show cattle that come up and show. Having all those people there in one place to talk to and have a good time with is awesome as well as having the opportunity to show both species there,” he said.
Parents Know Best
Although they have their own memories of showing at the Illinois State Fair three decades ago, both Aaron and Sue agree, watching their own kids show is more enjoyable. And at the same time, it does make them slightly more nervous.
“The biggest difference is I never got worried or nervous or sat there and went through my head, did I do everything right? But when you have kids you think about did you plan and prepare and do everything you can possibly do to prepare for that show? It doesn’t necessarily matter where we end up as long as the cattle look good and the kids look good in terms of right attitude and right sportsmanship. If the animal looks good and was presented well, then we did the best we could possibly do,” Sue said.
With two kids in high school, they just want to make as many memories as possible and enjoy the time together.
“Enjoy it because it will go fast. We’re not done, but we are getting close,” Aaron said.
For some, state fair memories might include a lemonade shakeup and a corndog, but for the Schafer family, their memories include nights in the barn, conversations with good friends, a paper towel sash and occasional banners that show that hard work pays off.