Early judging is prep for Ida County Fair
IDA GROVE – While it’s a tough time to be in the cattle business, Evan Else, 11, is meeting the challenge.
“The way my cattle are gaining, I think they’ll be ready for the fair,” said Else, a member of the Battle Badgers 4-H Club from Holstein, who plans to exhibit his cattle in the pen of three division at the Ida County Fair this summer.
Judging the entries had already started by the last full week in June, when volunteers Dale Friedrichsen, Dennis Sykes and Andrew Butcher traveled to 14 farms around Ida County to evaluate exhibitors’ herdsmanship.
For two mornings, the men met with the young people who plan to show their pens of three (including heifers and steers) at the Ida County Fair. Armed with clipboards and score sheets, the trio asked each youth a series of questions about his or her cattle rations, vaccination program, insect control, watering system, mineral program, breakeven price, solutions to production problems and more.
“We visit the farm to observe how the kids are taking care of their livestock and see how they are making the most of the resources they have,” said Sykes, a long-time Ida County beef producer, who feeds and backgrounds cattle. “Some of the kids are talkative, while others know the information but are a little shy about talking to us.”
Some questions, however, are easy to answer. “Would you rather raise horses?” Friedrichsen asked Kirstin Weber, 13, of Ida Grove, when he visited the Weber farm on the morning of June 24. “No,” said Weber, who noted that she enjoyed her cattle project. “Good answer,” Friedrichsen replied.
The judges also asked the 4-H’ers which production strategies worked well in 2009, and what factors should be re-evaluated for next year.
“I will probably do some things differently next year,” said Weber, a member of the Maple Huskies 4-H Club, who calculated her breakeven price at $81. “I don’t want heifers, because they are wild.”
Project offers real-world learning
When the judges evaluate the exhibitors on herdsmanship, it’s easy to tell if the young people have been doing the work required of their project, said Butcher, a second-year judge who added that age is not necessarily a reflection of a student’s understanding of cattle production.
“Some third-year exhibitors are more knowledgeable about their livestock than some high school kids who show at the fair,” he noted.
After the exhibitors are evaluated prior to the county fair on their herdsmanship skills, their livestock are judged during their fair, and the cattle earn points for rate of gain and other factors.
The final results are determined from a combination of the total scores. The pen of three project offers youths a great opportunity to learn about cattle feeding, said Butcher, a 2008 Iowa State University graduate who farms and runs a cattle feeding operation near Holstein.
“The kids understand the hard work involved in cattle feeding,” Butcher said, “and they learn about commitment and responsibility, too.
“In addition, they understand why producers use antibiotics to protect their animals’ health and use implants to help their cattle put on more pounds efficiently.”
Else is studying better ways to feed his cattle and is interested in reducing feed waste. His father, Stuart, is glad his son is learning real-world lessons about farming. “There are no free rides in this business and Evan is learning what it’s really like to feed cattle.”
The pen of three competition is much more than just showing a calf at the fair, Sykes added. “The kids learn valuable management skills, from feeding to finances. As a cattle producer, I know these skills are more important than ever, because there’s not much room for error in cattle feeding today.”
The judges encourage the exhibitors to keep increasing their knowledge of cattle production. “We enjoy helping the kids learn the business, and it’s fun to see how much they improve from year to year,” Butcher said.
Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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