It’s Show Time!
Beep, Beep, Beep… my alarm clock flashes 4:10 AM as it jolts me out of my much needed sleep. For the past week I’ve been up from 5:00 AM to 11:00 PM. In a moment of confusion, I’m upset, why in the world is my alarm going off at this time? As I come out of my state of grogginess I realize what today is … it’s show day. I had set the alarm early. Dad said he would come wake me up, but that’s what he always says – and I’ve learned over the past 12+ years of showing that he won’t, in hopes that I will get a little extra sleep and meet him at the fairgrounds later. So I quickly throw on my barn clothes, stumble down the stairs, and wait for him by the door to show I’m ready to go.
It’s the same routine each year. We get up, load the truck, and head to the fairgrounds before the sun has even considered rising. We pull up to the smell of manure lingering in the damp air and distant mooing coming from within the barn. Now the real job begins. I have seven dairy cows waiting to be fed, watered, washed, and prepped for the big show. I sink my feet into my oversized barn boots and lead the first one out to the wash racks. Although a scorching summer day awaits us, at this time the air is still cool, and the cold water straight from the hose instantly wakes both me and the cow up. It arches its back and squirms under the stream of water, as I start the first rinse. Then the scrubbing begins. Every manure stain, hoof, and teat needs to be spotless. As I scrub I think about the countless hours we put in leading up to this day. From haltering them up for the very first time and having them drag me around the barn yard, to clipping them for hours on end with the sun beating down and their hair sticking to every inch of our sweaty, sticky skin – this is when it all pays off. I do a final rinse to remove the suds and then tie them out in the field to start to dry. Then the pampering begins. Dad comes out armed with rags, show sheen, hoof polish, baby powder, brushes, and of course the Q-tips. Every hoof will shine, each ear wax-free, and all eye boogers removed. Any off-white stains will be covered with baby powder and the tail will be brushed and hair sprayed to its fullest volume. By the end, the cow looks (and smells) much better than either of us.
At 8:00 am Mom arrives right on que with milk and donuts from the famous local bakery. The entire 4-H club digs in, but my nerves have set in, and I have no appetite for my favorite white long-john. Mom hands me the bag of all-white show clothes, show boots, and black belt to change into. When I come back she pins my show tag number to my back, we put a few finishing touches on the cows, and then we’re all set to go. Crackling begins over the loud speaker, first-call for 2-year-old cows. We switch out the old, tattered rope halter for a crisp, black leather show halter and head toward the ring. Dad pulls out the dirty, crumpled paper and starts reviewing the cow’s information with me. What’s her birthday? When did she last calve? How many pounds of milk is she producing? Is she bred? I rattle off the answers and take a deep breath as we approach the sawdust ring. Dad pulls out the rag for one last wipe down, tells the cow to be good, then gives me a look of encouragement and says, “You got this.” It’s show time.
I slowly step into the ring, keeping my focus on the cow and eyes on the judge. The audience remains silent as we take our laps around the ring, stopping every so often to properly set up our cows and show them off to the judge. Everyone anxiously waits as the judge contemplates his decision. Finally, we are placed and receive our ribbons and trophies. The stress of the show is over. I walk out of the ring with a sigh of relief and beaming with a ribbon and trophy in hand. Dad gives me a pat on the back and says, “Waitta go girl.” Then he takes the cow from me and hands me the next one. One cow down, six to go.
This repeats throughout the day until show day comes to an end. The cows are returned to their spots in the barn, fed their well-deserved dinner, and given fresh bedding to relax on after a hard day’s work. As we walk out of the barn, white show clothes covered in manure, dirt, and cow slobber – energy may be low, but spirits are high with ribbons and trophies in hand. As we reminisce and discuss the events from the day, planning for next year inevitably begins, and dreams of next year’s fair begin to take shape.
Showing at the fair highlights a different side of farming, but just like farming, at the end of the day it’s all about the animals. While strolling down the barn aisles this year at your local fair, be sure to stop and talk to the exhibitors. You will find they have deep pride and much invested in their animals, and would love nothing more to talk to you about their work and passion toward the fair and showing. Being in 4-H and showing cattle at my local fair was one of the highlights of growing up. It gave me deeper appreciation for not only the food farmers and their animals provide for us, but also all of the hard work and dedication that goes along with it.