Investing time in junior livestock shows

Not to be melodramatic but as my wife, Kelli, and I pulled the truck and trailer out of the Nebraska State Fairgrounds on Labor Day, she pointed out that this might be the last junior livestock event our kids exhibit at.

Most likely she is correct as our daughter Landri has a couple more years of eligibility but as a high school senior, too many things can happen to pull her away after graduation. We know—we have been here before.

Not only did I attend the Nebraska State Fair as the proud parent of an FFA exhibitor, I also spent three days at the Maryland State Fair as the swine show judge. I made a few comments during the showmanship classes that I wanted to expand upon. There is no logical reason whatsoever that showing junior livestock makes sense.

First off, we raised most of the animals that our kids showed, with the exception of the Hereford heifers and a handful of steers. Just think about the initial purchase of the show animal that is typically three-fold above the real market price of that animal (or way more in some cases).

Once you have this high dollar critter, you can’t just feed it “normal” feed; it has to eat premium feed with all the possible “foo-foo dust” you can find to give yourself an edge. In no way, shape, or form am I going to try to justify any of that. And while the financial cost is one aspect, what I really want to focus on is time spent and what the potential reward truly is.

Let’s talk about that steer. I recognize it is the most time consuming but honestly some families spend the same amount of time preparing a barrow as others do a steer. As a personal example, let’s talk about the Hereford steer that Landri just showed into third place in class and a blue ribbon in showmanship.

We did not start as early with this calf as we should have or as many others do but once school (and state track and FFA and awards banquets) got over for the year, she started catching him every day, rinsing or washing him and combing in the conditioner. Someone walking through the swine barn at the Maryland State Fair asked why the pigs had such a shine to them and I responded, “Brother, these kids pay more attention to skin and hair on these pigs than your wife does.” He and his wife were shocked when I gave them the details.

In addition to the hair work and being under a fan in the barn all day, some people actually put calves in a cooler to get more hair growth. When it was time to go back outside each evening, Landri and the steer would take a walk for a minimum of 30 minutes, down the driveway, around some machinery and places with obstacles just for experience. It is very conservative to say that this steer received one full hour of attention every single day for the past 90 days. Easy cowboy arithmetic says the calf got 90 hours of extra attention this summer and that would be a small number compared to many kids who make it their summer job to train and prepare numerous animals.

So what was the reward for that 90 hours?

At the Sherman County (Nebraska) Fair in July, he was third in class against the crossbreds. That is a nice accomplishment for any purebred competing against the crossbreds. However, he was probably in the ring for a total of 5 to 7 minutes plus another 10 minutes for showmanship. At the Nebraska State Fair he was shown twice, once in the beef showmanship class and once in the FFA Market Beef show in the Hereford class. It is safe to say he was in competition for a total of 20 minutes at the 2022 Nebraska State Fair.

The equation we are looking at here is 90 hours invested with only 35 total minutes of show time for this steer. So the real issue today is that some folks are not willing to invest time to try to accomplish a goal. The reason you spend so much time preparing is to get your animal recognized. The showmanship makes all the difference in this scenario.

Parents frequently say, “Well the judge didn’t even look at my kid.” Honestly, the judge is constantly looking at some group of kids and it is easy when the kid makes you look at them more often—that’s good showmanship. The true life lesson in all of this is that you invest the time to stand out. By standing out, you get rewarded with a higher placing. That is it.

In today’s world outside of junior livestock projects, it is pretty clear to me that most folks are not willing to exert any effort to make a difference. Without question, that lack of motivation is exhibited by adults that, as kids, did not come home from work or school and sports practice to spend another 30 minutes of their day walking a steer around the yard.

All that said, it comes back to one of my oldest nuggets of wisdom: Junior livestock shows are not about using the kids to make the livestock better; we are using the livestock to make the kids better. Life skills like responsibility, integrity, sportsmanship, tenacity and patience can be learned in a barn. After nearly 20 years of junior livestock shows with our girls, I believe I can say without a doubt that we have achieved that goal.

Editor’s note: The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not represent the views of High Plains Journal. Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at, or email Trent at [email protected].