It is the second Friday in July, about 5:00 in the morning. I wake up at the break of dawn, in my family’s rented camper we get every year for the week of the fair. I get my steer, cow, and bull calf ready for show day. I’ve worked all summer for this show, feeding the right feed, washing to cool them down & grow hair, and walking to tame. I will be in front of all of my friends and family. I can’t wait to see if my hard work has paid off. There are many different thoughts going through my head-will the judge like my cattle? Will my cattle cooperate and strut their stuff? Will I be the showman that I know I am?
I started showing cattle at the age of 5 with a bottle calf. I named the calf Skippy and showed him at Kids n’ Critters at the Scotland County Fair. For years after that I have had many different bottle calves, market steers and heifers. I started showing through 4-H at age 8 with a bottle calf named Peppermint Patty; is it obvious that it was a red calf? I’ve shown many different steers from my family’s 125 head cow-calf operation. When I was 11, I picked the best fall heifer out of the weaning lot for my show heifer that next summer. I named her Bessie. She is the start of my very own cattle herd. She was bred in the spring by one of the herd bulls my dad and uncle purchased a few years back, and her first calf arrived on the coldest day of the century. The temperature was -18 degrees, but there was a windchill of -34 degrees. On January 30, 2019, she gave birth to a small bull calf that I named Frostbite. Fortunately, two days prior, my dad and I had the good sense to bring Bessie up to the barn. Frostbite was born inside the barn on a bed of straw. I found him within an hour, but the record breaking cold temperature had him fighting frostbite on his ears and tail within minutes of his birth. I worked to get him loaded up in the truck to bring home. Once home, I put him in the basement bathtub and I got to work blow drying on his ears and tail. I focused on his ears to salvage them and not as much on his tail. A month later, the tip of his tail fell off. My theory was that the average county fair judge might offer a little more grace for a bob tail than deformed ears. I’m smart enough to know that neither flaw is well-received in a show ring.
This summer I got to really experience the highs of winning. At my county fair, my steer won his class and earned Grand Champion rate of gain. My cow-calf pair won Grand Champion Cow-Calf Pair. Also; that little bull calf, born on the coldest day of the century, with a bob tail, he won Grand Champion Bull, despite his obvious flaw! I was the happiest exhibitor in the show ring, because I knew that it was my hard work and home grown cattle that won. I firmly believe America's small county fairs should be the showcase for 4-Hers and FFA members to show off the animals born and bred on that county's soil. Winning with home-grown stock, at my county fair, makes me not only proud of the cattle I selected my family's herd, but even more proud that my family is supplying America's beef industry with a healthy product.
I also got to experience the agonizing feeling of defeat. I decided to take my steer to the Missouri State Fair and show in the Open Carcass Show. In the show ring, as I was selected first by the judge to step out with my steer, I hoped and prayed I had won the class. Then the judge began to explain his reasoning. I soon realized that I placed dead last. In the time between my County Fair and the Missouri State Fair, my steer had lost his finish. This was the same steer that won the rate of gain class at my county fair, gaining 4.5 pounds per day, but admittedly, after my county fair, I was less strict with his feeding and walking schedule due to other summer commitments. This obviously cost me a higher ranking in my class at the State Fair...lesson learned!
Whether it's a homegrown steer or a show steer, I also believe that the junior livestock shows offered in Missouri's counties, districts and state fair create amazing experiences and opportunities for young exhibitors. Over the years, I have received many awards and ribbons from the bottom of the class, to accepting the Grand Champion trophy. Each ribbon or trophy has its own unique story. Ribbons, trophies, plaques and awards are not what showing is all about though, nor is it about my passion to select stock at my family's herd compared to purchasing a high dollar show animal. Its about the lessons learned: lessons in sportsmanship, confidence, and perseverance. All of this equates into a life lesson about how to be a humble winner and a gracious loser. The feeling of winning is great, but would it be as great if you had never experienced defeat?
Showing livestock has been the foundation of many of these skills that I have learned through the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Today's society has mistakenly offered participation trophies to everyone. That has created character shortcomings in my generation and the generation prior to mine. That theory has done no one any good, rather it has created soft, over-sensitive and fragile adults (snowflakes). You will find few snowflakes on a family farm, except for the ones falling from the sky. E.M. Tiffany states in the FFA creed (2019), "I believe in leadership from ourselves and respect from others, I believe in my own ability to work efficiently and think clearly" (par 3). Friendly competition has been replaced with the mantra that everyone is a winner. Everyone is NOT a winner. Winners work hard and earn their rewards. The truth is, even some losers and some snowflakes work hard. However, to build character and understand life and all of its intricacies & hierarchies, I believe there has to be a winner and there has to be a loser. I have held both positions, and in both positions I have learned a lesson or gained a skill. This is my story.
Elsie Kigar, a freshman at Scotland County R-1 High School in Memphis, MO, presented this speech at the FFA Area III Speech Contest in front of judges from the Missouri Cattleman's Association. She earned First Place at that speech competition. A few months later, she presented the speech in front of judges at the Annual Convention of the Missouri Association of Fairs & Festivals and earned second place and a $900 Scholarship. Elsie and her family live southwest of Memphis, MO, near Bible Grove on the family farm.