Rolling with the Punches
for The Fence Post
Livestock exhibitors have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the competitors remain strong and true to generational values.
Although this year has pressured countless institutions, causing many to collapse, the show industry may not be one them. One of the advantages to the legions of people who were raised in a show barn would be the generations of hard-working, determined, persistent and diligent individuals who enter society. This is a family who sticks together in times of trouble, and livestock exhibitors are doing their part. A few young livestock exhibitors talk about their experiences with showing, how it has developed them, and how they plan to pursue the livestock industry in the midst of COVID-19.
Cheyenne, Wyo., is home to Katherine Olsen, 16, an ambitious young woman who is paving a way for herself in the show lamb industry. At a young age, Katherine and her brother Braxton started with five head of ewes. Today, Katherine and her family now lamb close to 100 head, producing the 2019 Reserve Grand Champion market lamb and 2020 Grand Champion market lamb at the Wyoming State Fair. Katherine has been a strong competitor at multiple shows around the nation, winning numerous titles and was eager to compete at the 2021 National Western Stock Show in the Market Lamb and Market Goat shows. She was surprised when she discovered that there would be no showing at the 2021 NWSS. What bothers her the most is not having the opportunity to spend time with those who mean the most to her. She has made connections with people in the showing community on a different level because they share the same passions. Katherine said that “what goes on in the show industry reaches far beyond what the naked eye can see.” Showing has made her who she is today, so it isn’t easy to watch some of her last years in this industry get compromised. At her county fair, she brought her livestock to the grounds, showed them, and took them home all in the same day. This was a big disappointment to her, as she was not able to see her friends and experience the county fair to the fullest. However, Katherine has remained optimistic. She believes that those in roles of authority making these choices are doing so in the best interest of the kids. She has started working harder than ever because she said, “If I believe there will be a future, then there will be.” She urges others to stay positive as well, “because there will always be something to look forward to.”
Gentry and Berkley Warner
Gentry and Berkley, southwestern Nebraska natives, live on a successful seedstock operation. Both the 950 pair Gelbvieh/Balancer ranch near Arapahoe, Neb., and the cattle industry is in their blood. The Warner family has consistently delivered high quality syndicate sires for commercial ranchers across the nation for generations. They’ve exhibited supreme Gelbvieh breeding cattle in the Yards at the National Western Stock Show for decades, and never fail to come back home with blue ribbons. Gentry, 16, and Berkley, 14, were disappointed when the 115th NWSS was cancelled. Gentry said the stock show is her “favorite time of the year.” For these girls, the stock show is a lot more than just a cattle show, it’s a family reunion. This is one of the only opportunities they have all year to see friends from the showing realm, who have turned into what they call their “show family.” They are also out of luck when it comes to their leading form of advertising. Promoting their breeding cattle in the ring at Denver helps add versatility to the buyers who attend their annual female and bull sales. The NWSS brings the Warner’s together as a family, and they are disappointed to miss out on that generational tradition. Even so, the girls remain positive. Both will testify that this year, more than ever, they have realized the importance of family, and have come to appreciate the little things in life they took for granted before. The girls thank their life in the show barn for making them outgoing leaders, even outside the ring. Although COVID has presented them with challenges and disappointments this year, showing has installed a personality of perseverance into them. They are ready to do what it takes to keep pursuing something as important as the livestock industry.
Jaysie Schoenfeld, 19, grew up in Oakley, Kan., on a well established club goat operation that has chalked up a few noteworthy victories over the years. In 2016, they bred the champion market goat at the Aksarben stock show, and they have also had their name rank at the top at other national shows. In addition, her family is serious about showing Aberdeen cattle. However, showing is more than purple banners and belt buckles for this family. Going to shows is how their family bonds, and for many ranch families, going to shows is their only vacation. When she found out that the National Western Stock Show was cancelled, she described it as a “blow to the gut.” Her family had an assortment of cattle rigged up and ready to go to Denver in January. Even though the show was cancelled early, she still had a lot of time and money invested in her livestock, and it was heartbreaking to watch that go down the drain. Not only this, but NWSS included an essential fundraiser set up by the junior board, which allows them to host junior nationals. Jaysie has been a participant in the Aberdeen Junior Nationals Association, which was supposed to be in Woodward, Okla., this year. Unfortunately, it was called off as well, and turning out the cattle they had ready for that exposition was disheartening. In the end, Jaysie has been coping with the losses deriving from COVID relatively well for such a passionate show kid. She still plans to attend the NAILE this fall, and her advice would be to never take for granted the time that you are granted in the ring. “The ag community is under a lot of pressure from outside forces right now, and the only way we are going to beat this is if we come together rather than stray apart from each other. We need everyone to make this happen.”
Jed Sidwell started showing when he was only 8, and now at 18, he has acquired a multitude of accomplishments. The Sidwell name is synonymous with good cattle, and high-quality sheep. Jed’s family has become respected in the Dorset/Dorset advantage sphere, as they have been awarded champion Dorset multiple times at one of the most competitive livestock shows in the nation, also known as the National Western Stock Show. Jed grew up in Kersey, Colo., and his family is known for their high-quality livestock. Nevertheless, showing is something that Jed pursues year-round, and the NWSS was definitely one of the expositions that he looked forward to attending. Jed’s family has been competing at Denver long before Jed’s years of eligibility, and this generational custom has been something that embodies the dynamic of their family and allows them to share special memories doing what they love most. “At the end of the day, showing is one of my very favorite things to do,” he said. Jed was heavy hearted to discover that he would not be participating in a show that has been in his family for decades. On a positive note, he is very thankful for the opportunity to show at the 2022 Denver Stock Show as they have granted one extra year of eligibility. Jed was also thankful for a relatively normal county fair, and the supporters of Weld County livestock exhibitors came out to the sale to bring in over one million dollars. It is very refreshing to see a society of individuals still willing to back the show kids even in the midst of the pressures that the livestock industry is facing from COVID regulations. Through this year, Jed has recognized how fortunate he is to have grow up in the livestock industry. As the saying goes, you never really know what you have until it’s gone. Jed has learned to be resilient and roll with the punches, and he believes he will be a more valuable individual to society because of the difficulties he has faced this year.
The livestock industry is truly a special and unique environment to grow up in. Something that all kids had in common was their love for showing because of how it brought them closer together as a family, and because of the deep connections that they have made with people over the years through shared passions. Although these show kids faced unexpected challenges throughout the year, they were all still thankful to be able to go out into the barn during quarantine and do what they love the most. Above all they are thankful for those who are supporting them to continue pursuing their passions, and for the opportunities that are still available for them to take a hold of. These talented showmen are confident in a full comeback in the showing world and are determined to never give up on their passions. ❖
— Kendrick is a senior at Otis High School in northeastern Colorado. After graduation, she wants to be a livestock judge in college and study political science and journalism. She can be reached at email@example.com.