With their sights on summer
DES MOINES – With snow on the ground outside and cold temperatures permeating the coveralls, stocking caps and gloves of a few dozen 4-H and FFA youths inside the Iowa State Fairgrounds cattle barn, the Polk County Fair seems a long way off.
But the county fair, Iowa State Fair and other cattle shows are precisely what these young cattle producers have in their sights. Saturday marked the beginning of a months-long process of preparing show cattle with the annual beef weigh-in for Polk County.
About 100 head were weighed Saturday, with most in the 600- to 700-pound range. Over the next six months, the 35 to 40 4-H and FFA youths will feed their animals and carefully monitor the feed inputs and the costs.
When July 20 rolls around, the start of the Polk County Fair, young showmen expect many of their heifers and steers to nearly double in size, to 1,200 pounds or more. If they’re successful, their cattle will gain about 3.5 to 4 pounds each day.
“The weigh-in is a way for them to start the process,” said Phil Heckman, youth coordinator for Polk County 4-H. The expectation is that the youths will do most of the work themselves.
The number of cattle weighed this year was down about 20 head from last year and about 40 head from two years ago. Heckman suspects the price of corn is one of the biggest factors for the declining numbers.
“It tends to have an affect on 4-H livestock,” he said.
Although a few high-tech changes have been added in recent years for anyone wanting to show at the Iowa State Fair or the Ak-Sar-Ben show in Nebraska, the Polk County weigh-in remains nearly the same as it has been for years.
Cattle are weighed and tagged in late-December to ensure that the same animal is shown for the county fair.
If 4-H or FFA youths want to show cattle at the Iowa State Fair, a retinal scan of the calf’s eyes is taken. It is also required for meat goats or sheep at the state fair. Every county in Iowa has access to a retinal scanner, Heckman said. The Ak-Sar-Ben show in Nebraska requires competitors to pull about 40 hairs for DNA validation of each heifer or steer.
Sisters Brett and Kay Timmins are part of the Altoona Hustling Herdsmen 4-H Club and have been showing cattle since the fourth-grade. They get their calves from their grandfather’s herd of 20 market cattle. Kay Timmins, 14, said she enjoys the process of raising her calves, from seeing them as newborn calves on her grandfather’s pasture to selling them after the county fair.
Brett, 17, said she’s gleaned a lot of knowledge from her FFA livestock judging experience on what cattle to choose. “You want to look for uniformity,” she said. She also has learned a lot from raising cattle for 4-H. “I like the life skills it teaches you,” she said.
Rob Timmins, the girls’ father, said raising cattle for 4-H teaches a lot of responsibility – from feeding and caring for the animals to budgeting for feed and a financial incentive after the cattle are sold.
“Most of what they earn from this will be used to help them go to college,” he said.
Trevor Gallagher, 14, of Elkhart, brought in four calves for the weigh-in. He’s had them on his farm for as little as two weeks for some and up to two months for other calves. Gallagher said he enjoys the process of raising cattle.
“Once they’re tame it’s really fun,” he said. Trevor is a member of Plowshares 4-H and has had some good success recently. Trevor said that he showed the grand champion the last two years.
Only time will tell if his hard work will be rewarded again in July, but the process has begun.
Contact Dave DeValois at email@example.com.
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