Summer a busy time for local kids showing animals at fairs
By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor
For many local 4-H’ers, getting animals ready to show at fairs throughout the summer is an everyday job.
“You certainly learn a work ethic,” said Catheryn Lang, a recent MFL MarMac graduate who shows milking short horns raised on her family’s farm outside McGregor. “You’re out every day working with them. You can’t neglect them or up and leave or say, ‘I’m not going to take care of them.’ That’s where farm kids’ work ethics come from.”
“It can be a year-round thing,” added Brady Olson, 14, who shows sheep with his sister, Kaitlyn, 16, from their family’s farm outside Luana. The two compete in three fairs each year—Postville’s Big Four, the Clayton County Fair and the state fair—as well as a number of open shows around the state, with many between one and two hours away. The first event occurs the week after school gets out for the summer and the last could go into November. Participating in sports and other school activities, Brady said sometimes it’s hard to fit everything in.
Like the Olsons, Lang also shows at a number of locations each year, including at Postville, Clayton County and the state fair, as well as events in West Union and Waterloo. Sometimes, she also shows at the World Dairy Expo in Madison.
Brothers Mason and Gavin Hertrampf, who will be a freshman and 7th grader, respectively, at MFL MarMac this year, live in Monona, but show beef cattle kept on a relative’s farm outside town. They also show at the Clayton County Fair and sometimes at Postville if their animals are ready. For the past two years, they’ve gone to the state fair as well.
The path to showing
For all of them, the path to showing began at a young age.
Lang was in fifth grade when she joined 4-H and got into cows and showing. She said her father had shown cows for many years and was a great resource.
“He worked the show circuit with friends,” she said. “Since he had experience, it was easy to pick up, and he would help with clipping and breaking them to lead.”
For the Hertrampfs, it was also a family affair, as they learned about showing from their older brother, Tyler, a few years ago.
The Olsons went about things in a more unconventional manner. Kaitlyn said her family’s first lamb—an orphan lamb her father selected—arrived when she was 2 years old. When she and Brady joined 4-H, it seemed natural to show sheep. However, without a family background in showing, she said they relied on tips from other people with sheep and by attending open shows.
“We also learned how to show properly on the Internet,” she said. “A lot of it was hands on, teaching ourselves.”
Preparing to show
While actually showing the animals is a big time commitment, preparation is even bigger, with each person facing their own obstacles and lists of criteria to meet.
Lang said bottle-fed calves are put on a halter at one and a half weeks old in order to get them used to handling. Other calves are haltered once they’re weened. From then on, and once they get past the age of being scared of people, they are worked with every day.
“They’re shown up until they don’t look as good as you’d like or until they can’t have calves,” she said, adding that a cow will also be taken off the show circuit if she develops a blind quarter—when milk is not produced from a teat.
Genetics largely determines if a cow will be shown, Lang said.
“If they come from good genetics, the heifer should be shown if she’s big enough,” Lang said, explaining that cows are bred for height, as judges favor taller animals. Judges also consider the udder, feet and legs and length of rib.
Mason and Gavin said genetics also plays a large role with their beef cattle. Their animals, they said, need to be fat, with straight backs and square butts.
“You want a sound, muscular calf all the way through,” said Gavin.
Their hair also has to look just right.
“You want them to have a lot of hair,” Gavin said. “It’s hard to get it all fluffed up, so you’ve got to be out there almost every day to wash them.”
However, beef calves, which the boys begin working with the fall before the fair, throw a wrench into the situation, in that they are more wild than dairy calves.
“Mine wasn’t very tame,” explained Gavin, “but our brother always told us that, if you wash and wash it, that helps. And it did. We have a blower which dries them out and gets them used to sounds.”
Listening to the radio also helps them adjust, added Mason, since it mimics the noise and activity at the Clayton County Fair.
“If you’re out there with them every day, it should only take a month or two to break them,” he said.
Like the Hertrampfs’ beef cattle, Brady said he and Kaitlyn’s sheep should have a lot of muscle and structure, with a big body. Prospective lambs are selected a few months after they’re born, he said, then skimmed until the final few to show are chosen. As with the other animals, genetics plays a large role.
“When you first pick the lamb out, you know who the sire and dam were,” Kaitlyn said. “If it has good genes, it should be a somewhat decent lamb.”
Preparing the sheep for showing begins with halter breaking, said Kaitlyn. The lamb is tied up two to three times per day and regularly petted. They also get used to a rail, which not only helps the sheep stand still, but stand properly. From there, the sheep are led around by hand and by a sheep walker.
“By then, they should be fairly used to you, and you can start working with them,” Kaitlyn said. “It’s different with each lamb, and everybody does it differently.”
Kaitlyn said she prefers attending the state fair and open shows because the level of competition is often higher. There aren’t a lot of sheep people in northeast Iowa, she said. While Brady also enjoys the level of competition, he said there’s a good atmosphere at the county fair.
“It feels like home [showing there],” he said. “You know everybody.”
For the Hertrampfs and Lang, seeing the competition at state is a good experience as well.
“It’s good to see how your steer matches up,” Mason said.
Lang said the state fair also gives her the opportunity to focus more on her cows.
A good experience
While Lang’s cows do not go to market following the fair, the Olsons’ and Hertrampfs’ animals do.
Mason and Gavin admitted it can be hard to see them go.
“You get pretty attached by the end of the year,” added Kaitlyn about her sheep.
It’s still a good experience, though, said Brady, as he enjoys watching the lambs grow and progress throughout the summer.
Mason and Gavin said it’s rewarding to watch their cattle become more tame.
“I like taking a steer because it’s tough breaking them,” Mason said.
“It’s a fun experience that everyone should try,” added Gavin.
Kaitlyn enjoys that the birth of lambs is a harbinger of good things to come.
“It’s fun when the lambs drop because you know you’re going to have a good summer,” she said. “It’s a really good experience because it teaches responsibility and how to gain pride. You get to be together, work together and be a part of something.”