Mader: My first show calf, Part II
It’s the week before fair around here and I’m bustling around trying to help my 8- and 11-year-old kids finish record books, bake final cakes, put together small engine demos and complete shooting sports posters. Despite my best efforts, the week before fair always seems to be a rush.
It was that way when I was a kid in 4-H, too. I was always hurrying to finish up my projects at the last minute — literally sometimes right up to the second we were leaving for the fair. That was especially true in 1994. Like I shared in my last column, that year I was not only doing my standby indoor 4-H exhibits, I was also getting my first taste of showing livestock.
I was so excited, but I had no idea how much work showing a calf would be. I’d been around cattle for my whole life, just like my parents had, but none of us knew a thing about show cattle.
My parents raised Charolais cross cattle, so I picked out a yellow heifer from the herd and named her Fancy. Fancy was a bit wild and extremely stubborn, so breaking her to lead was a chore — especially since we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. We tried tying her up with just food and water for a few days, keeping her in a small pen and feeding her cake several times and finally pulling her behind the tractor. She fell once when I was driving the tractor and the incident scared her (and me) so much that I think she finally gave up trying to resist the lead rope. I thought that we had everything made after making it past that hurtle, but it was only the beginning.
Tackling baths was the next big challenge. Fancy was not a fan of water. The only place we had a water hydrant to hook up a hose to was near the propane tank. It probably wasn’t the safest idea, but I tied her to the propane tank for her first bath. Fancy bucked and spun around the tank when I tried to wet her down. I tied her loose enough that she could make it all the way around the tank, so it turned out to be an act of me chasing her with the hose around and around the tank.
Thankfully, my sweet neighbor Merry Jones had to drive by my house to get to her hay field, so she noticed my lack of success with Fancy and pulled in with her 4-wheeler one day. Come to find out, the neighbor I had known for my whole life had a secret — she used to show Limousine cattle in shows all across the region.
Merry was my saving grace. I had no idea that I needed to buy a blow dryer or that I needed to clip Fancy in certain ways to make her look more attractive. Merry brought over her old red cattle chute, set it up by our shop and showed me the tricks of the trade. Fancy was still stubborn and flighty, but Merry showed me how to keep her under control. She also gave me lessons on blow drying and clipping and showed me how to compete in showmanship.
Merry showed up at my first cattle show at the Quint Valley Fair in Byers, Colo., and gave me more tips. She and the rest of my team (mom, dad, brothers and sister) all cheered me on, even when Fancy exhibited her worst behavior in the show ring.
I don’t remember the details now, but I recorded in my 6th grade journal that I got fifth, fourth and sixth places at the Quint Valley and Arapahoe county fairs. It wasn’t the best start to my show career, but I still loved it.
Fancy wasn’t a good starter calf (I had much sweeter ones later in my career), but she did turn out to be a good cow. I showed her in cow-calf pair classes at the 1995 fairs and she made a good addition to my parent’s cowherd.
After that, Fancy lived a long and happy life free of halters, tractors and baths until she died of old age on my parent’s farm when I was in college. ❖