What’s that you say? Your kids (or grandkids) came home saying they want to show an animal. Some well-meaning county extension agent, agriculture teacher, or family friend who clearly despises you told your child showing livestock would be fun. Now, it’s your job to figure out just how “fun” this new undertaking is going to be.
Youth across the nation show a variety of animals, from horses to chickens. If it can walk or hop, chances are it can be shown. So what does a stock show project for the child living in your home entail? Here is a taste of what to expect when you’re expecting a show animal:
Housing. First things first: you’ve got to have a place to house Bugs Bunny or Porky the Pig or Bessie the Cow or Lamb Chop or Clucky the Chicken (or whatever clever moniker you have chosen for your animal) when said animal first shows up at your home. While the size of the pen will vary from animal to animal, a few things will remain the same. The pen must keep the animal in a safe environment from which they can not escape from or be attacked by prey. The pen also must be kept clean and dry. Often this will entail shavings of some sort and regular cleaning. It should also be a place in which the animal can be fed and watered.
Feed Costs. The next basic need for housing an animal on your premises is the need to keep them fed. As my father always explained to us as children, “you like to eat regularly each day and so do your animals.” Feeding twice per day - once in the morning, once in the evening - is standard protocol for most animals. With that feed, comes feed costs. This is where a real price difference per animal comes into play. While a chicken may eat as little as one-fourth a pound of feed per day, a show steer can easily eat 10-15 lbs of feed per day. Just like fuel for your car, fuel for your animal can get pricey. Make sure you’ve discussed in detail with your county agent or agriculture teacher just what types of feed costs you can expect to encounter with your show project.
Show Fees. Now comes the fun part; the show! Depending on your species and geographic location, the animal may be shown 10-15 times over a 12-month period or simply once over a span of 90 days. Regardless of the number of shows the animal is entered in, there will be fees associated with each show. Fees are usually based on the number of animals entered, not the number of exhibitors, so can add up if you’re entering more than one animal per show. A standard fee would be in the range of $25 per animal per show.
Dress Code. No, this isn’t a private school, but yes, there is a “uniform” so to speak for showing livestock. If you’re showing dairy cattle, it includes white pants and a white top (and this is where we stop and ask who thought white was a good color to wear in the presence of manure that tends to splatter?). For other species, typically a nice pair of jeans and starched button up are appropriate, along with a basic pair of boots. In some realms of stock shows, the more bling and flash on your belt and in your hair the better. For others, simple is key. The clothes don’t have to be expensive and you probably already own the essentials, but be aware that there is a certain “look” the judge will be expecting and make sure your child meets the dress code for the best chance at success come show day.
Hard Work. Just like raising and training children takes long hours, hard work, and much discipline, so does raising and training show stock. Most don’t come trained to walk into the showing anymore than your children were ready to listen and obey at birth. This means quality time spent bonding with the animal and making sure they’re familiar with you and trust you as well as time spent training the animal. Again, this varies based on species, but you can typically expect some form of halter breaking and walking via lead-rope to be involved. This process won’t happen overnight, but with consistency over time the work will pay off.
Just like any enjoyable hobby or pastime, showing livestock comes at a cost. It will cost time and money, hard work and energy. However, the investment on your return is well worth it and what you can expect to get from the effort put into the project is a child who has learned hard work, responsibility, maturity, confidence, and character. Not every child needs or wants a show animal - and not every parent is up for the challenge - but for those who do, a more developed and responsible child is sure to follow.