As a football flew through the air, young boys chased it through the sod-like material of a small livestock show ring. They wore anything from jeans and T-shirts to nice button-up shirts, comfortable for the 78 degree weather Hutchinson, Kansas was experiencing on Saturday at the Kansas State Fair.
It wasn’t the normal view from the bleachers above the show ring.
The kids playing football in the middle of the show ring are members of families who show different types of livestock. They spend full weekends at the fairgrounds, caring for and showing their animals.
Barbara Hanson, of Ulysses, Kansas, said she shows beef and dairy cattle at fairs and competitions.
“We really never make it outside the barn,” Hanson said.
The Stewarts, a family from Baldwin City, Kansas, who take part in showing ewes, said that they only leave the grounds for a few hours each night to sleep.
“We don’t leave (the fairgrounds) until about midnight, and this morning we were back out here at 6 a.m.,” Jeannie Stewart, show mother, said.
Stewart’s daughters, Emma and Reilly Stewart, show ewes in competition several times a year. Reilly Stewart has been showing for seven years and is a sophomore in high school. Reilly Stewart said the duties of caring for the animal help to prepare them to go into the show ring.
“You have to feed (the animal), you’ve got to go and wash them and blow them out and get them ready for the show, brush their legs and then make sure they are ready to go,” Reilly Stewart said.
More practice goes in ahead of time, however, in order to make sure that the animal is prepared for the positions and requirements that need to be met in the show ring.
“You have to work (the animal) and work them until they can set (their) feet (squarely),” Reilly Stewart said.
Reilly Stewart and Jeannie Stewart both said they agreed that the amount of practice time Jeannie spends at the barn is at least three to four hours a day during the summer. At the actual shows, Jeannie Stewart said her daughters do not have a lot of free time due to the amount of ewes that they show, but she did say that both of her daughters enjoy shopping at all the fair stands and shops when they do have a free moment.
On the other side of the barn, Brandi Peverly, a 19-year-old from Wamego, has been showing pigs since she was 7 years old. She said that there is a lot of free time for her when she isn’t in the show ring.
“It’s a lot of down time compared to the little bit of show time that actually happens,” Peverly said.
However, Peverly keeps busy with all the other people showing their pigs, and she said that one of the best parts of showing pigs is the people you meet.
“We know a lot of the people,” Peverly said. “We show with them all around the country, so we have a lot of friends around so we just talk and hang out.”
With pigs, the care is different from that of sheep, but both need to stay clean and healthy.
“Especially with the pigs, you have to keep them clean,” Peverly said. “We wash them every day and keep their skin good.”
Every livestock species is judged based on different characteristics. Even within the species, there are different types of judging based on the animals’ different breeds and purposes. For example, Hanson said the difference in desired appearance between beef cattle and dairy cattle.
“Dairy animals, you want them to look as skinny as possible and beef, you want them to look fluffy,” Hanson said.
According to Hanson, this means part of the process for preparing dairy cows to be showed includes feeding them correctly and body clipping them to keep their hair short.
Gail Carpenter, graduate student in animal sciences and industry, coaches the K-State Dairy Judging team and is volunteering to coach the National Kansas 4-H Judging team. She said she came to the Kansas State Fair with her team to practice judging.
Carpenter said there are multiple parts to judging. To start, livestock are sorted into groups of four by age and then ranked by their quality within their class, and in the competition portion collegiate judging teams judge the animals, rank them and later explain the reasons why they placed a class.
Carpenter said she wasn’t always on this side of judging, though. Carpenter showed cattle when she was younger through 4-H in Michigan, and she said with a laugh that she remembers her first showing experience.
“It was kind of embarrassing for me because I got into the game a little bit older than a lot of people,” Carpenter said. “A lot of kids will be doing it since the time they could walk and I did not. I didn’t get started until junior high, so it wasn’t as natural for me as the other kids, and my cow wasn’t as good looking as the other cows in there. It was a little bit embarrassing, but I enjoyed it. I had enough fun that I came back, and obviously now I’m making a career out of it.”
Everything that happens at the shows is the result of the care for the animal ahead of time — how they are fed, cared for, groomed and trained.
For Carpenter, that was always the best part of showing.
“I always really liked getting ready for the show more than the show itself, in all honesty,” Carpenter said. “Just taking care of the animals, training them, working with them, bonding with them, that’s what I thought was the fun part. It was the anticipation part.”
That football, as it flew through the show ring, could be seen as a reminder of how much of these families’ lives revolve around the animals and the showing.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into this,” Jeannie said. “This isn’t something you just do on the weekends. This is 24/7, every day, all day. You have to live it.”