The Exhibiting Experience
People who meet me sometimes think I’m obsessed with cows, but honestly, everything that has to do with cows in my life makes me the happiest I’ve ever been. It’s not just the actual cows that are so special, but is the experience of raising and showing the cows along with the people that have to do with it. Summer is a favorite part of the year for most people because there’s no school, but I love it because it’s fair time. During the summer months, I exhibit my dairy cattle, crafts and photographs.
So what does showing do for me?
Through showing my animals, I learn more than I would ever learn from a book or in a classroom. Since I was eight, I’ve shown dairy cattle and before that, I showed swine. Exhibiting these animals has taught me responsibility, time management, communication skills, goal-setting and much more. My personal experience in showing, I believe, has made me the person I am today. The life skills which I have acquired have come from the long, hard process of preparing for shows to actually getting in the ring.
It might be tough to grasp how incredible showing really is for a person and his or her character, but I think of it in easier terms, like a long project. There’s no due date for it, but the project starts immediately. For me, my project in dairy started with the birth of my first cow, Ethel, on December 12, 2003. My first step was to set a goal for myself. How did I want to do with Ethel? Was I going to try my best? Would I just use Ethel as a guinea pig to really get into dairy? I decided I wanted to do everything I could to do my absolute best. I wanted Ethel to become my best friend. I wanted to learn so much from the whole process.
The first due date was halter-breaking Ethel, so eventually she would become ready to walk in a ring. Leading up to that due date was one of the most challenging things I had to do, especially at just a young age. Once that task was complete, on to the next due date, the dreadful fair preparation. Preparing for the fair typically includes washing my animals multiple times and working with them almost every day- certainly not an easy task. Then, the dreaded hair clipping comes along a certain number of days before the fair, so the cow will look her best for the show with the correct hair length. The next step is actually getting the supplies for the fair and setting up the stall at the fairgrounds, easier said than done. And finally, arriving and showing at the fair is quite intense, but completely worth it if you ask any dairy exhibitor. Besides the life skills I have acquired through showing and raising animals, there comes a more personal aspect, and my favorite part, the friendships.
I have met some of the best people I know through 4-H and showing dairy cattle. Meg, Emily, Jake, Josh, Josie, Emmy, Ariel, Belle, Henry, Sam, Emily, Olivia and Trevor are just some of the most awesome people I have grown up and built extraordinary friendships with. All of them show or have shown dairy at the Harford County Farm Fair with me for years where we have the time of our lives. Usually friends see each other in school all the time or hang out on the weekends, but we’re different. We spend about two weeks together at the county and state fairs during the summers; that’s about it. It may seem strange being close to people I only see so little, but those days together are the ones I remember most. We have so much in common with most of our interests, especially with the dairy project. Sitting in a circle engaged in one of our favorite card games is what we love most. We make the most of what we have when we’re together and just have a blast. From pulling pranks on each other to walking around the fairgrounds, nothing can be more special.
Another important part of showing for me is that it’s one of my dad’s “things.” My dad grew up showing all kinds of animals, and he was one of the main reasons I wanted to show. My father encouraged me to show and made it possible. He’s the one who has gotten me through all of the wonderful ups and severe downs. During the summer, I feel the closest to my dad because it’s “our time,” and we spend so much time together getting ready for the fairs. He has gone out of his way constantly to help me do the best I can. I owe all credit to him for my being where I am with my animals and showmanship skills.
What other aspect that has made showing so incredible for me is my animals. My first cow, Ethel, is my best friend. She’s like my moody daughter who gets me when no one else does. We might not get along all of the time, but she is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. A little over 1800 pounds, Ethel is a sassy cow with a big heart and appetite. She’s bossy and picky when it comes to her food, but she brings the best out in me. When I walk her, it’s just like hanging out with an old friend. We understand each other so well; there’s nothing like it. She knows how I’m feeling, and I pretty much know what she’s feeling like. If it weren’t for Ethel, I don’t think showing would mean nearly as much to me. If I were to have a cow who was running all over the place and had a horrible attitude, I would’ve wanted to quit showing right away. Ethel did run away from me when I was walking her for the third time, and I refused to show her and cried for a long time. My dad kept me going and told me to not give up. I took his advice, got over it and found an amazing partner in crime in my big, beautiful white Holstein cow. She’s had Emily, Elliott, Ellie, Ebony, Erica and a C-section of a dead heifer calf, so she’s done it all. She has had some rough times, but we’ve stuck together and got through it. I almost lost her in June to her C-section, and it was the worst day of my life, but she fought hard and kept going. Ethel has taught me to not give up, no matter what the circumstances. Ethel came close to not making it out of the surgery, but she couldn’t let me down. I might be upset with her attitude at times, but she’s helped me get first place at the state and county levels in showmanship and breed classes. Ethel will always be my first and most unique cow and she’ll definitely always be my favorite.
Exhibiting my animals gives me a feeling I can’t get anywhere else. It’s a feeling of accomplishment, love, pride and much more. I love it more than almost anything else in the world and it forever will be in my heart.