Calf show teaching lessons
Of course, extension agent Buck Farrior was being facetious because I've been to almost every Escambia County Calf Show since I was eight years old -- 20 years worth.
Having participated when I was young, I know what the program can do for kids who are involved now.
About 15 to 20 young people from the ages of 10 to 18 enter the calf show every year, but work begins long before the February date of the show. The calves shown this week are a project that began last summer for the exhibitors.
The care of these animals is a daily responsibility, much like caring for a pet. They have to be fed, watered, groomed and trained.
Beginning in the summer, the kids start working to transform an unruly, "unbroken" animal into one that can be handled in a show setting. Kids have to work with their calves often over several months to get them accustomed to wearing a halter, being led and standing still.
Each animal has its own natural temperament which can range from calm to totally uncooperative. The ideal animal would walk with the slightest tug on his lead, stop on a dime and hold his head high, his back straight and his feet square. To even get near that stage, an exhibitor has to dedicate hours and hours to the task before the show in February.
The lessons these kids learn in discipline and responsibility are invaluable. They also gain firsthand knowledge in the science of animal nutrition and growth as they watch a calf grow from eight months old to 1,000 pounds or more by the time of the show.
This year, participants in the Escambia County Calf Show were awarded more than $3,000 in prize money. They also earn big when their animals are sold at the auction following the show.
The money my brother and I earned from showing calves in high school bought each of us a car and helped with college expenses. We also saved part of each year's earnings to reinvest in the purchase of the next year's calves, teaching us money management lessons beyond what most teenagers experience.
Kids who participate in programs like this also gain a respect and understanding for food production. Exhibitors somehow grow to understand that though they care for and enjoy their calves like they would a pet, the animal has a purpose and at the end of the project, it will go on to fulfill that purpose. It's a sensitive topic to some people, but "farm kids" somehow learn to accept and respect the fact that livestock aren't really pets.
Thanks to the physical, financial and time investment of family members, the Escambia County Calf Show Committee, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and many, many local supporters, kids leave the program with an uncommon experience and lessons they may not even realize they've learned.