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Saturday, March 7, 2015

And Sometimes You Win

I did not grow up around livestock. I was never in 4H or FFA. Until I married my husband, I never even owned a pair of cowboy boots. When my 14 year old daughter was not quite 9 and my husband started talking about her showing cattle, I had no clue what we were about to embark on. When he mentioned buying her a calf, I cocked my head towards the 90 acres of pasture in our backyard with cattle grazing on it, and asked incredulously, "Why would we buy another calf? Don't we have enough?" He laughed at me. Those weren't "show" calves. What?!
So, his dad bought her a calf. Her name was "magic sis" and she was like a giant puppy dog, but as she grew it was scary to watch my little girl handling this giant animal. We borrowed a big, heavy "grooming chute" and an old blow drier from some family friends. And, I just still didn't get it! I had no clue what went in to all this and was honestly a little resentful of the amount of time and money this project seemed to be "taking away" from my family! Why on earth would you need to blow dry a calf's hair? There were tears and frustration as I explained to my husband that his daughter who had never led a cow around with a rope was bound to be scared. He had to learn to cut her some slack and I had to learn to let go some. She had to overcome her fear and trust this very large animal she was dragging down the road with a halter and lead rope. I was in awe as I watched my prissy little girl shoveling cow manure - something I never dreamed she'd WANT to do. But, she did!
Her first two years went pretty well and she enjoyed showing. I started learning what it was all about and began to gain an appreciation for what my daughter was experiencing. Not just what she was learning about agriculture, but about responsibility and hard work.
Her second calf was as gentle as the first. I remember sitting in the stands at her regional livestock show, pride radiating off my face as I watched my 10 year old leading her Heifer around the arena, when suddenly a dog barked and spooked her calf. Her calf bucked - something we'd never seen her do - and wanted to try to run. Sissy (That's what we call our daughter) held on to her, and fell down. It looked like she almost flipped as she fell, and I was on my feet! I was ready to run in the ring and save her, but she found her footing and lifted her Heifer's head, steadying the calf and slowing it back to a walk. As her mom, I could read the panic on my daughter's face, but she kept going. She finished showing her animal, and then as she walked out of the show ring, she burst in to tears. I think that moment was when my appreciation for livestock showing truly began. I watched my 10 year old exhibit some very adult behaviors in the face of a scary situation. Her hands were rope burned from hanging on, but she did hang on, and she was scared to death, but she didn't give up! She finished the job and waited to have her reaction when she was done. I was officially impressed.
Sissy's third calf was from better show cow genetics than the first two, but it was crazy. Seriously, just pretty nuts. The fourth one, which my father-in-law and husband had raised through artificial insemination, was even worse than the one before. She was a giant red Heifer named, "Daisy." She was pretty! But, Sis was already gun shy from the year before and Daisy was not to be trained! She kicked, bucked, head-butted, and used her excessive force on anyone who tried to mess with her. Seasoned cattlemen refused to work on her leg hair before a show, knowing they'd get kicked in the face. It didn't matter how much we worked with her. She grew to be a huge Heifer, too! I was officially scared to death of her after a couple of run-ins and so was Sissy. But, after putting in a year of work towards a livestock project, do you throw in the towel? I had watched my daughter feed and care for this calf for months, through a hot, drought-filled Summer and cold winter mornings. I watched her cry in show rings, let go of the lead, plead with her dad to come in and save her. I watched her pride break and her spirit tire. But, when we told her at the end of the season she didn't have to show her at the county and regional shows (you see, you can't just pick another animal, you have to show the one you nominated earlier in the year), she refused. She showed her anyway. And actually did pretty well with her! But, I could tell she wasn't having fun anymore. I, for sure, wasn't.
Then came the fifth heifer, "Glimmer." She was probably the sweetest one we'd had and, that was our goal for Sissy, whether we won or not, just to get an animal she could work with. But, poor Glimmer didn't end up being much to look at (we couldn't get her hair to grow - which is super important for show cattle) and never won anything at all. That winter was rough, and I watched my kids come in so many mornings literally with icicles on them from going outside before daylight to feed, hay and break ice. I also watched Sis walk in to the show ring every time and lose. And, I could see the last 3 years wearing on her. So, after that season I asked her, "Sis, do you still want to show cattle?"
At first she lied and said, "yes." But after further prodding (see, moms know when further prodding is needed), she tearfully admitted that she didn't like it much anymore but she was afraid to tell her dad - afraid it would break his heart. When I asked if she might want to try a different animal, she told me she wanted to try showing a pig. We addressed the subject with her dad with much finesse, since cattle showing was his first love. I had to explain to him that I didn't think she'd stick with showing if we kept up the cattle thing, and if we wanted her to stay in ag, he'd have to be open minded and listen to what SHE wants to do.
Needless to say, we bought pigs this year. We altered our show barn and jumped in to the swine business. Now that I'm not so scared of being kicked, I have taken a more hands-on approach. Instead of watching from the stands, you'll find me behind the ring in my rubber boots, with mud and pig poo all over them. We didn't have a lot of success at the smaller jackpot shows this year, and we have had to learn a lot and rely on other people to teach us what to do, but we've had a lot of fun! And my cattleman husband has become quite the pig enthusiast.
This year Sissy got reminded of what it feels like to win. She got 2nd place in her class at the County and Regional show with one of her pigs. She got 3rd place with the other at Regionals. She made the premium "sale" (which is always our big goal) at both shows! That's never happened for us in the 5 previous years! May never happier again!
I stood on that same ground where 4 years previous I'd watched my little girl get flipped around by her cow, and I watched her make the top three in both of her classes (out of 15+ in a class). I listened to the judge commend her showmanship and I watched 6 years of blood, sweat and tears pay off for her finally. I saw her pride back intact and the determination on her face.
I don't resent the time showing takes away from my family anymore. Because I finally learned that it doesn't! Yes, my husband and kids sometimes don't make it in the house until dinner is cold - sometimes I'm out there with them, sometimes I have to be inside making sure our house doesn't fall down around our ears. But, either way, I now appreciate this so much. I appreciate what my kids are learning. I appreciate the people they are becoming. I appreciate the person my husband is because be was raised in this. I appreciate the group of people we are immersed in who are so willing to help and encourage. I appreciate that because we are new to the "pig barn" and were confused about when to be there to clean up, someone else cleaned our pin for us. I appreciate our ag teachers who devote countless hours of time away from their own families to teach our kids, even the 4H kids who aren't even on the high school ag team yet. I appreciate the parents who's kids are not in school anymore, but they still show up and support the kids still in it. I appreciate the businesses and community members who spend money and time to help these kids out. I appreciate that my family is learning what it means to be a part of something so much bigger than ourselves - I hope my kids learn to pay forward all the support they've been given. I hope they learn from the amazing examples of integrity all around them.

And, I know they're learning this: Sometimes you lose. But, you work hard, do what's right, and treat others well. And, sometimes... Sometimes you win!

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