As the Grimes County Fair Association closes the book on another successful year, I continue to be amazed at the youth livestock program. About four years ago, I attended my first Market Swine and Market Steer judging and watched in awe at how the young exhibitors managed these large animals in the arena. This year, I watched some different events and concluded that “country” kids have absolutely NO time to get in trouble or be bored!
Keep in mind I was born and raised in the city so this was my first foray into Market Turkey and Market Broiler judging. The closest I’ve come to a turkey is lugging it from the cooler to my shopping cart and into the oven.
At my first steer judging a few years ago, Anderson mayor Gail Sowell provided me with a brief tutorial so I looked around for a friendly stranger to fill me in on how this turkey judging was going down. I was surprised to see white turkeys (didn’t know they existed) and to learn the birds would be judged outside of their cages. I imagined turkeys running helter-skelter unless they were on leashes. Not so – they heeled patiently like a dog at the feet of their exhibitor. I have grandkids who never minded their parents that well!
When judging began, I watched rather wide-eyed as these kids, some not much taller than their turkeys, held the birds upside down by their feet shoulder-high while the judge patted and examined the animal’s breast. Suffice it to say, some birds accepted this manhandling with less grace than others by squawking or flapping their large wings sending a flurry of white feathers into the air. The kids seemed to know how to put an end to that nonsense by inserting their legs between the turkey’s wings and breast. Some kids were showing multiple turkeys and had to call in reinforcements by way of a friend or family member to hold a second or third bird upside down.
The broilers were judged by the same method, and some kids had so many chickens that showing them was an extended family affair. Speaking of broilers, the following comment is for my friend and former co-worker Carol Bienski in Bryan who reads my column. Carol, all I could think about was that with four sons you must have attended hundreds of chicken shows in your life, and while I’ll skip the graphic details, I also had a flashback of your description of how Pete handled the “leftovers.” Does “clothesline” ring a bell?
I hated missing the lamb, goat, and steer judging but did make it to the rabbits and swine. The kids who showed turkeys, chickens, and rabbits were out there with the swine, and had I gone to the lamb, goat, and steer judging, I probably would have seen the same faces there too. This is when I realized how deprived my kids and I were to grow up in the city. Exhibiting animals is obviously a huge investment of time but it teaches about winning, losing, teamwork and the cycle of life which includes death.
I realize the “country” of my parents’ youth and even that of my husband, a 4-H Gold Star Boy who raised a Wharton County Grand Champion Steer, is not the same as today’s country. Before electricity, indoor plumbing, super highways, the internet, FedEx and Amazon, country life often meant doing without so I’ll not judge their decision to leave too harshly, but I watched these youngsters with a little envy, thinking that my own children and I missed some valuable lessons growing up.
This city gal has a tremendous admiration for youth livestock programs and I think this quote, courtesy of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, just about says it all - “Here’s to the kids who plan their social life around feeding time.”
Connie Clements is a freelance reporter for the Navasota Examiner and award-winning columnist. She writes feature news articles on a weekly basis and an opinion column as the mood strikes her.