Written by Don Ratzlaff Wednesday, 25 July 2007 04:28
They chatter about heifers and steers with as much enthusiasm as most girls muster for Beyonce and boy bands. But these four Marion County girls have forged a fast friendship in a very different arena: showing cattle at fairs and livestock events.
Taylor Harms, 13, Maci Schlehuber, 12, Lauren Geis, 12, and Katey Ehrlich, 11, will bring their skills and experience—and their animals, of course—to the Marion County Fair livestock arena Thursday evening for this year’s 4-H beef show.
And even though they’ve competed in far bigger events, they’re looking forward to this one.
“The Marion County Fair is great, it’s really laid back,” said Maci, daughter of Merle and Marolyn Schlehuber, rural Hillsboro, and a three-year member of the South Cottonwood 4-H Club.
That’s a ringing endorsement, considering that Maci shows her Charolais cattle at some 18 shows around the Midwest during the course of a year.
Although the itinerary of her three show-girl friends is less congested, they agreed the county fair is a highlight—for all the right relational reasons.
“I like hanging out with friends at the shows—that’s really fun,” Maci said.
The four girls compete together at several shows each year. In the process they have built a strong bond that supercedes any rivalries caused by differences in 4-H club memberships, hometowns or school systems.
Lauren, daughter of Wayne and Deb Geis of Durham, attends the same Hillsboro school that Maci does, but is a member of the Tampa Triple Ts 4-H Club. She’s been showing mostly commercial or crossbred cattle for five years now.
Taylor and Katey attend Marion schools and are members of the Happy Hustlers club.
Taylor, daughter of Mark and Kim Harms of Lincolnville, is in her third year of showing Red Angus and Black Angus animals.
Katey, daughter of Mike and Kathy Ehrlich of Marion, is in her fourth year of showing Hereford and Black Angus.
Rather than rivals, the four girls are more like teammates, helping each other at shows with tasks ranging from grooming the animals to watching out for them while the owners are running other errands.
Most of all, the girls help each other pass the time, whether it be walking around the grounds, playing cards or simply talking.
“We’re all from different schools, so we have all kinds of different things to talk about,” Lauren said.
Added Katey: “I’ve been at a show where I didn’t know anybody and it was really boring because there’s no one to be with during the parts when you aren’t showing or washing (the animals).”
For all four girls, getting started in beef shows was a natural outgrowth of their circumstances. All four girls live on farms and were influenced by what they saw at home.
“I’ve kind of always wanted to show cattle,” Lauren said. “I grew up watching people do it because I always go to the county fair.”
Katey was influenced by a sibling. “I just wanted to follow in my (older) brother’s footsteps a little bit,” she said.
Taylor said she learned a lot by watching older 4-Hers like Ty Goossen and LeAnn Thomas, who have accomplished a lot in the ring over the years.
“Those two we watched a lot and they taught us a lot, so we got interested in it,” Taylor said.
With some variation, the process begins with selecting calves as potential show animals when they are weaned from the cow.
Fathers help the girls identify physical traits in the calves that may lead to prize-winning entries. But ultimately, it’s personality that prevails.
“We had a good steer, but he was like crazy and mean,” Katey said. “He wouldn’t let you lead him. I tried to take him to the Junior Livestock Show and it did not work.”
For that reason, the girls usually select more calves initially then they plan to take to shows.
Once the animals are selected, it’s all about “making friends” with them—spending time each day with the animals so they feel at ease with human handlers.
The girls often select both a heifer and a steer for showing. Each gender has its advantages.
“A steer gets you quick money and a heifer makes you money over time,” Taylor said.
Steers usually generate financial returns more quickly than heifers because steers usually are sold at the conclusion of the Marion County Fair.
Heifers, meanwhile, generally are taken taken back home, where they generate long-term financial benefits by birthing calves for years to come.
The animals also earn money for the girls through prize premiums by placing well at the various shows.
The girls said they use their earnings to help pay for the feed and other expenses involved in the project—then put the rest in the bank.
Of course, selling those steers isn’t easy.
“It’s hard to let the steers go,” Katey said. “I have a steer every year and I cry every time I sell one.”
Maci said: “That’s why I only show heifers—because when you’re done showing them, you can just turn them out and still go out and scratch them every day.”
For most of the girls, the show season begins in early December with the Kansas Beef Expo in Hutchinson. Whether their circuit includes 18 shows or a half dozen, the process is much the same—it involves a lot of sitting around until showtime nears.
Grooming the animals prior to entering the show ring is the most tedious aspect of the effort, the girls said. Hours before the they enter the ring, the animal must be thoroughly washed, then dried with a blow dryer.
“It takes a long time to get the whole body dry—like an hour for heifers, depending on how big they are,” Lauren said.
As the girls have learned, there’s more to being successful at beef shows than simply having a good animal. Their ability to showcase it in front of a judge is critical.
For instance, the girls have learned about the “show side” and the “non-show side” of an animal.
“The non-show side is the side you’re on when you lead your heifer,” Maci said. “And the show side is the side you show the judge. He always looks at that side; he won’t move.
“Eye contact with the judge is a big thing,” she added. “Eighty percent (of showing an animal) is watching the judge and 20 percent is looking where you’re going.”
But the hours of preparation don’t always result in a good outcome. All four girls have “horror stories” to share about how their animals refused to cooperate with them, butted them, kicked them, stepped on their toes or even broke away from them inside the show ring.
“At the (Marion County) spring beef show, my steer was dragging me around a little,” said Lauren, now able to laugh about it. “He was really big and hadn’t been broke for very long.”
Katey claimed more than her share of hard-luck stories, and the other girls agreed she’s had some interesting moments in the past.
“She cannot go in the ring without having something happening,” Maci said with a laugh.
“For like a year, I cried at every show for being stepped on, butted or dragged,” Katey admitted. “But it’s been getting better.”
Beyond the knowledge and experience they’ve gained about cattle and showmanship during their brief careers in the ring, the girls agree they have learned something else that will serve them well regardless of where their path takes them in the years to come.
“Responsibility,” they said, almost in unison.