Why We Show

Fair time is fun time. That’s what we are told, and when it’s our first year, we believe it. We look forward to it like none other. All we have to do is raise an animal? A pig? A lamb? And then we sell it? Sounds simple, right? I mean, it’s just some animal… Right? But after your first year, you know the truth.

It’s so much more than that.

The first step is picking out your animal (show a large and small animal, if you’re classy), and then go from there. Deciding the dates, “I need to get it here…”, “I’ll feed first thing in the morning…”, “I need to make weight by this date…”. And boom, you have a plan, and more importantly you have your animal. Congratulations! All that responsibility! Now you just need to make it work.

You finally pick your animal after looking for hours at all the key points, confirmation, top line, price tag… And now you need a way to get it home. You’ll figure it out.

You’re a showman. You got this.

Everything seems to be going good, and your thoughts could be something like… “Steady rate of gain… GET THAT OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!… Showmanship practice? No one told me! I’m on my way! Made it. Barely… Another bag of feed? Already?… A cut on the nose?… All patched up!… She follows me like a puppy! Isn’t that great?! Mom! Dad! Look!… What am I doing? Why won’t you brace… You’re so stubborn! UGH!… ‘What? She got out? Again? I’m so sorry…’ ”. They can be a hassle. They can push your buttons. They can make you more upset than anything else ever has. But at the end of the day, when you feel no one else will listen, they’ll be there. They always will be.

But as the weeks draw nearer, the days become more important. The time spent with them becomes so dear. And the last day, we begin to dread. For we know our time with our beloved creatures is drawing to an end. No matter how much we don’t want to accept it.

The week of fair begins simple enough: paint the stalls, bring in your still exhibits, set up your campsite… But then the day your animals can come is there, and thus starts the early mornings of cleaning and feeding and getting them ready for show and this and that and before you know it, you just want it to be over. But, in all actuality, that’s the last thing you want.

The day before show is a rush. “Where are the clippers?”, “I thought I was next!”, “I could’ve sworn I had bluing…” But, somehow, you get them ready for show. The perfect shear… The shoe polish… Perfect. Lookin’ good!

It’s show day… You’ve been working for this for months now. It’s time to go out there and show them what you and your animal are made of. The best team… You get in the show ring, and you flaunt your baby. Make eye contact. Smile. Pretend you know exactly what you’re doing. You and your animal are the best… The judge starts placing and… That doesn’t matter, does it? Of course it opens the realm of higher market prices, more showing and more glory, but do the ribbons help?

There’s a lot more to it than just the color of the ribbon.

It’s about the experience. The pride that comes with raising your own animal. And seeing it progress and get better. Day by day. The personality. The love. The experience. And you learn you won’t get something you don’t work hard for.

After your shows are all done, you’re free until Sunday. Go have a good time. Hang out with your friends. Ride a few rides. Eat some of that really bad yet amazing fair food.
But please, don’t forget to be with your animal as much as you can.

They need you. And you need them.

Ah… The day you’ve been waiting for… Or is it the one you’ve been dreading? You know what they say, “Love me or hate me…” But nonetheless: Auction day is here. You look at the list and see where you sell. “I guess that’s a good spot.” You think to yourself as you get into your official dress. I mean, who doesn’t love the blue corduroy? Or that blue/ green/ white 4-H hat?

Your name is called and you’re in the auction ring, time to flaunt your animal to the buyers… The auctioneer says some things, he’s trying his best to get you as much money as he possibly can… Brace.. Smile… Please someone else bid… “AND SOLD!”

Sold. Your beloved animal was just sold. Your baby. Your best friend of the past few months. You take a picture or two with your animal, and head back to the stall. Then you change your clothes. Finally, you can breath!

You look at your animal, see the love for you in their eyes, look at your watch… Only a few hours left… Some will go out and pack, others will go back to the rides, but some… they’ll stay with their animals just a little longer. And hug them. And remember all the good times. And smile at the bad ones. Because without those, you two wouldn’t have been so close.

You grab the halter, just enough time for a quick walk, right? Right…? You walk around, and see others with their animals just like you are. Some are smiling- trying to, that is, others look upset, and some have already lost it. They’re crying. And you know you will be soon enough.

You might be alone with your animal, off to the side, under a tree. You might see everyone head to the drop off area… You’ve made it this far without breaking dow-… Ok, maybe not… But you can hide it, right? No one needs to know… Sunglasses on, head down, hopefully no one will talk to you and hear the crack in your voice…

“Hey” one of your friends greet you, “How’re you doing?” you see they already cried. “Good” you reply “She’s doing reall-“ ok, your voice just cracked. And yes, they heard it.

Yup, they caught you. A few tears fall. You keep walking. Wishing you could take it all back. Wondering why you’re doing this. Start wondering about your animal: Does she know? Will she feel betrayed? She knows I love her, right?

You keep walking.

Almost there.

You can hear the other animals making noise.

Some people are coming back already.

You’re there.

You drop her off with the others.

Your heart drops.

You walk away.

Congratulations. You raised, marketed, and sold a market animal.

Now, people handle this in different ways. Some cry, others don’t feel much, and most tuck it away. Hide it.

Others, the onlookers, wonder why we do it.

Why do we keep doing it? If it hurts so bad, why don’t we just stop after the first year?

Year after year, the pain doesn’t just stop. The pain doesn’t go away, you just learn better ways to cope. You will always care about your animal. It’s just the way it is. They become a part of us. And that’s what we love. As agriculturalists, we love growing a product and having someone want it. The animal, plant, or other good we produce having a marketable value to it just makes us happy. The fact that people want to spend their hard earned money on our animal?

That’s priceless.

But as showmen, we love the feeling of being in the show ring again. Starting over and doing better. Improving ourselves until we win. Improving our animals and skills until they earn the Grand Champion title. Until we are proud of where we are and where we made it to.

That’s pride.

And as humans, we love the attention and admiration our animals give to us. We are their humans. We give those animals the best lives we could possibly give them. Better than they would most anywhere else! No matter what anyone says, we love our animals. We care for them. We would protect them in most any situation. We would do anything for them. But, we know what we were getting ourselves into.

They are part of our lives. But to them? We ARE their lives.

Every year we learn something more from our beloved animals. The things that happen to our animals can be applied to us. An example of this being the illusion of being “perfect.” There is no such thing as the perfect animal, and there is no such thing as a perfect human. It’s all relative. But despite our and the animal’s flaws there is always something we’re better at than the person or, livestock, next to us. Our own calling, a special talent, a perfect topline, a great haircut (or shear job).

We also learn that, despite our best efforts, some people just aren’t going to like us. This is showcased by the ever looming Judge. People will watch you. People will question you. People will, yes, judge you. And when the final verdict comes in with a Judge’s or another person’s opinion, we learn to take it with a grain of salt. We learn that the opinions of another aren’t a final verdict of who are or what we do, but a blessing in disguise. A way we can improve ourselves for the next show, the next presentation, or, after you graduate, your next job interview.

So next time someone says, “I don’t know why you’re so sad. It’s just an animal.” Or “You’re committing animals abuse!” or some absolutely ridiculous claim, you know the truth. You know it is so much more than an animal. It is a piece of you.

This whole time you thought they needed you. No. You needed them.

Andrew KielakI’m Andrew Kielak, a freshman at UC Davis, where I am studying Animal Science and Management. I was a member of the Loyalton FFA Chapter, where I served as chapter president my senior year. I participated in most every speaking competition, raised lambs & poultry for market/ show, respectively, and wrote for the CA FFA Leadership Conference Press Corp two years in a row. I plan on either going to Vet school or business school and going into the vet field, agribusiness or potentially politics.