Has the meaning of showmanship been blurred in the show cattle world?

Back in the late 1800’s researchers discovered that adults in the farming community were not receptive to new agriculture developments that were created by university campuses. Researchers also discovered that young people were open to new thinking and were more willing to experiment with new ideas and then they would share their experiences with adults. Thus began the ideology and foundations of the 4-H youth clubs, the need to be able to get information of new technologies and new methods of farming and caring for animals out to the rural communities.

This past week I was able to travel down to southern Missouri and experience some real humidity and I was also able to spend some time with a good friend of mine while his kids were showing a couple of steers and heifers at their local county fair. I was excited for this opportunity to get a glimpse of what it is like to show an animal that is bigger than the bucket calf my son is showing this year with his 4-H club.

However after watching the animals be judged I didn’t really have a warm and fuzzy feeling anymore about showing a show calf. My preconceived notion was that the kids would be judged on their showmanship and how they handled themselves, how they handled their animal, what kind of effort they put into prepping that animal for the show and lastly how well they cared for that animal over the past year or two. These are all things that can be controlled by the contestant, the harder you work, the better you will do in the competition. Sadly that’s not what these kids were judged on, the judge at this event seemed to only focus on the structure of the animal, the judge seemed to be more concerned with the bone structure and the muscle development of the animal. Now I understand those things are important if you are selecting an animal to start building yourself a herd that you would like to maybe someday earn you some money, but those are things that are not controlled by a young person who is caring for that animal.

You can be the best there is at raising an animal, you can give it the best feed, the best care, the most attention, but if that animal had some structural flaws or defects in its bone or muscle mass, then nothing you do will be able to overcome science and how that animal grows or how it metabolizes the feed it is given.

Now I am not one of those parents that feels every kid deserves a ribbon or a medal for just showing up to an event, I believe it is good for kids to be competitive and learn that you may not always be the first place winner, life is full of ups and down, you win some and lose some, showing an animal at your local county fair is a great way for a kid to learn those life lessons. However I feel that if a kid is to be competitive or to be judged it should be something within their control, otherwise each competition will boil down to who has the most money to be able to afford the most perfect animal for the judge to see and base his suggestions on who he thinks should be a grand champion.

I realize I am new to this industry, and I have a lot to learn, but I have to wonder has the lines become blurred on what showmanship is? I look to the 1800’s and the reason why 4-H clubs were invented, and I look at today, is showing an animal still about teaching the kids something new, teaching them about how to care for an animal and teaching them responsibility, or are we teaching them it’s more about who spends the most money to get a calf with perfect form and structure so a judge will name you the winner?

I don’t have a problem with some friendly competition, but the ultimate goal of the completion should be more about rewarding the kids who put in the effort to try and be the best at showing their animal. Anyways I still look forward to watching my kid show his animal this year in a few weeks at our local county fair, I just hope the judge will base his recommendation more on true original showmanship and less on what he thinks he can sell that calf for based on how well its bone structure has formed.

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