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Watching a livestock competition

Topics/tags: Miscellaneous, Iowa, short

Today I was at the legendary Iowa State Fair. I don’t go to the State Fair every year, but each year that I do, I try to focus on something that I have not done in previous years. When the kids were young, we used to go to lots of rides. There was a period in which they really liked all the strange sales at the varied industries building [1]. In some years, we fit in concerts. More recently, I’ve been focusing on the Ag building.

This year, I went to my first soapbox [3]. More importantly, I spent some time watching a 4H heifer competition [4]. A friend had children in the competition. We showed up at the fair at 7:30 a.m. to watch. It turns out that we didn’t need to get there quite that early; their particular sub-event didn’t start until around 9:00 a.m. But it was useful; I got to start to start to learn the way these competitions work.

It’s fascinating to see the interaction of the various players, as it were. There are the kids and their animals. There’s a judge. And there are a lot of helpers. Most of the communication is non-verbal. There trainers obviously communicate with the cows: a tap or massage with a stick, a foot in their way. But I was more interested by the communication between the human beings.

The judge makes a sign. It could mean I’m sorry, you are no longer in contention. In that case, the kid brings their animal to the side. It could mean I’d like to see the animals walk around. In that case, the helpers signal to the kids and the kids start guiding the animals in a prescribed path. It could mean I’ve reached my decision [5]. In that case, everyone cheers and the top competitors rearrange themselves.

The cows don’t necessarily like competing. So the helpers also help the competitors. They might tap a cow on the back to get it moving. They might just walk alongside.

And, of course, some have to pick up the manure.

I don’t think I’d want to spend all day watching; I don’t understand the subtleties well enough - how each breed is supposed to be shaped; how they place their feet when they walk; how they carry themselves; and more [6]. But for a few hours, it was definitely a worthwhile experience. It’s nice to see how a culture works and it’s intriguing to see how naturally people carry out their roles.

Congratulations to the young lady who won both Angus and Chianina [7], if I am not mistaken [8].

Postscript: I realize that, for some of my readers, cattle shows are part of everyday life. But they are not part of mine. Even though I’ve lived in Grinnell for twenty years, I’m still a city boy. And so I continue to learn interesting (or obvious) things about the world of farming.

[1] Or perhaps they [2] just liked the free stuff.

[2] Or I.

[3] We saw Tom Steyer. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but I was standing directly behind his daughter.

[4] At least that’s what I think it was. Livestock are not my expertise.

[5] That one is pretty easy. He usually holds up one, two, or three fingers toward a particular competitor.

[6] I heard the judge comment on all of these as he explained his decisions.

[7] The award goes to the trainer, not the cow.

[8] I don’t have my program. Her name was Sara something. I only saw her compete in Angus and Chianina. She may have won more.

Version 1.0 of 2018-08-14.