Do you ever ponder the lifelong benefits of showing livestock?
Showing livestock is fun and rewarding. The benefits of showing livestock are the skills learned for a lifetime. These skills learned overtime have prepared me for my dream job of successfully raising livestock: Cattle, goats, and hair sheep.
I always knew I wanted to work with animals for a living. Since I was a little girl, animals were everything to me. I remember long hours in the barn with animals. Sometimes we would prepare for the big show. But other times, I was in the barn just hanging out with my animals. They were my stress relievers and my comfort.
Growing up, I was able to show livestock at the local, state and national levels of competition. Some of the best memories of my life were with my show animals. Not just at the home barn, but at the many shows we traveled to.
We won some and lost some. But, looking back on my experience, I realize how much I learned and still use today. Here are 9 ways showing livestock has prepared me for a lifetime of raising and caring for them.
One of the main skills I learned is the economics of showing livestock. Learning to follow the markets, set a budget, and find a good show animal while staying within the budget.
Knowing the economics can help show families live more comfortable lives. Show expenses can really add up if you aren’t careful. Know what your goals are before the season even starts. If you know how much you can spend, spend it wisely.
Your goals can help immensely. You can have what you want, but you have to know what you want. And you have to work hard for it.
If your goal is to win a national jackpot youth show, you’d better be willing to spend top dollar for a great animal. Have the money on hand ahead of time. Try not to take a loan or credit. It’s a lot bigger piece of mind to know that expensive animal is paid for.
Because animals in the real production world costs money, too. You’ll want to learn other characteristics of the animal, such as composition to know if you’re getting your money’s worth for the market.
Composition & Appearance
The composition of the animal is how well or poorly the animal is made. The animal should be pieced together well and moving freely. There should be no feet leg, or mouth problems.
The goal in the production world is if the animal can survive in a pasture or feed yard. To accomplish this, the animal must be able to move from one place to another freely.
Specifically from water to food.
Judging contests can be where the youth first learns about composition and appearance. He/she may not have the eye for good livestock right away, but with practice comes perfection and knowledge.
Here are 5 things I learned about composition of quality breeding livestock:
- A breeding animal must be physically deep and have the spring of rib to carry a baby.
- She must have wide pins to have the baby safely.
- She must have an evenly shaped udder with perfect teat structure.
- Must walk square and move freely on her feet and legs.
- Needs to have a good disposition for easier handling.
Today, I strive for my breeding animals to meet these criteria. I keep only my best females back that pass the test to ensure growth of top-notch genetics. Because you should never stoop to be lower than your best.
You can have a good animal, but my next lesson learned is that feeding is just as equally important if not more.
I have learned over the years that brand names of livestock feeds are not always better. Sometimes, feeding local grains can be the best way to go for you.
Local co-ops and feed mills employ nutritionists to help producers make decisions about the right feeds. Using local grains, these nutritionists can help producers cut out costs while meeting nutritional requirements. Many feed mills can re-invent a feed recipe from a brand of feed just by having access to the feed tag.
Improving sustainability is the number one importance to any livestock producer or show project. One of the ways is providing the best quality feed and nutrition for less money.
I’m not telling you to cut corners on the feeding program. No way!
Even if your production livestock is grass fed, you have to be sure your pastures are well-stocked and nutrition level is at peak performance. No matter how livestock is fed, nutrition comes first.
You should definitely look into a program that delivers all the best nutritional aspects at a lower cost. I’m telling you, they are out there. But, you have to think outside the box to find them out.
Speaking of boxes, equipment is another large expense to both showing livestock and raising livestock. Many handling equipment supplies are ones I have transferred over from my years of showing livestock.
I use my old hot blow dryer to dry newborn cold babies faster. Rope halters are still used to catch ewes and does to lead them to another pen.
Livestock handling chutes have been a blessing in my job of producing livestock. I learned how to use our own rather quickly because I was around them growing up with show livestock. .
Another way to handle livestock is by herding. I prefer to herd the entire group into a catch pen. Then, I quietly and gently sort the animals I don’t need to treat from the animals I do.
Many years of being around livestock has taught me to know what they are thinking. Anyone can watch their eyes, ears, and tails to know what direction they are wanting to go next. Understanding your livestock needs can help you to better care for them.
Care & Compassion
Animal husbandry at any levels requires compassion and care if animals are sick. Any livestock producer or caretaker should have some knowledge of animal health care or have access to a mentor or veterinarian.
Veterinary-client-patient relationship is extremely important these days. You never know what is going to happen with animals, so it’s best to just be prepared.
But sometimes, there are days where “DIY Livestock Care” comes in handy. Veterinarians take vacations, too, so it’s always best to count on the fact they may not be there when you have an emergency. Always have a plan B.
My DIY Livestock Care plan consists of contacting my mentors first. It’s a good idea to have medications, antibiotics and syringes on hand to administer the proper healthcare protocols to keep animals as healthy as possible.
Another important aspect of animal care is identification. Growing up showing, our show animals had to be identified to prove they were our animals. This has been important merging into the production world since some visitors to one of our rental pastures forget to close the gate.
Luckily, thanks to our identification ear tag in that cow’s ear, we were able to find our cow and bring her back home to our pasture where she would be safe.
Identification is a
factor of historical record keeping. Keeping track of the herd is very important for success.
Important but annoying! Many producers are not good record keepers. Myself included in those statements! And I learned about record keeping way back in the day in 4-H!
We get so busy in the day-t0-day that we forget to write down when a cow has a calf. Or what that calf’s number is. Or when the cow is bred.
An app has made me a little bit better in recording breeding dates. It’s called Birth Planner and can be downloaded from the App Store. All I have to do is record the identification of the female, the day I saw her bred by the male and it automatically calculates the gestation period for me!
I also like to keep records of families. Looking back on my goat herd of 60, I find the majority of the does go back to only 4 or 5 does. These foundation does are great mothers, have good confirmation and dispositions.
Over time, I have learned the best herds are ones that have grown slow and smart overtime. Herds that meet expected criteria and fit in well together will be the most successful overtime.
Showing livestock brought me out of my shell. I have made friends and acquaintances from all over the United States. Thanks to social media, I’ve kept track of the majority of these friends over time.
In fact, many of these friends are like family to me. It’s amazing how close the livestock industry really is. Not only did I make many friends, but I’ve gained networks for working in the industry. I recently bought a bull online from some friends I went to college with. It was fun to connect with them again.
Having a great network with amazing contacts has helped me to succeed overtime as a livestock producer and industry employee. Connections who know me and the industry well means so much and keeps me on track with my goals.
Showing livestock allows everyone the opportunity to make all sorts of connections. Including the connection with the main person looking at your livestock.
In the show ring, you’re at the mercy of the judge’s opinion. With this in mind, I’ve learned to never ever give up what you set your mind to do. No matter what the result is at the show, it’s important for you to remember to stay determined and true to your goals.
Understand that you have a purpose to show livestock or you wouldn’t be doing it. I believe everything happens for a reason. Everything anyone gets to do is an opportunity. The question is how will you approach this opportunity?
Stay determined on the path to finding out the purpose. When the going gets tough, always remember why you started!
At the end of each show season, I learned an extremely important lesson about livestock. Every single animal, just like us, is here on Earth for a purpose. When they have fulfilled their purpose, it’s time for them to move on.
My heifers became cows in our pasture that produced calves for my further education.
The steers, pigs and lambs were sold at the end of the season or harvested for meat. It was extremely difficult and sad to say goodbye to an animal I worked so hard with and got to know so well. This is what many people don’t understand. Show families care about their livestock in many different ways because they understand the animal’s purpose.
Many people also just don’t understand an animals’ purpose in life. Cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs, and rabbits were put on this Earth for us to eat them as a primary protein. To sustain our bodies. It’s all part of the food chain and of the circle of life.
I’m so thankful for the opportunities growing up to show livestock in my organizations and with family and friends. Looking back and remembering all the good times has led me to also remember the benefits gained.
The animal husbandry skills I’ve learned has helped me to properly care for my livestock in a way that will earn a living for myself and my family. I’ve learned that my purpose in life is to manage healthy livestock as a main source of healthy protein for my family as well as others who can’t grow it themselves.
Showing livestock has helped me determine that I’m living the life I was meant to live.
How did showing livestock prepare you for your dream job?