What is the Deal with Livestock Shows?

So you’re going to the State Fair (or maybe you visited one of your county fairs). You’ve had your milkshake, the corn dogs were great, and then you wandered into an arena full of serious-looking kids (and possibly even more serious parents) parading cows around in a circle.

What in the world is going on there?

elkhart county fair cow lineup

Showing livestock is a lot like the Westminster Kennel Club Show for dogs–it’s a beauty contest. Kids spend all year feeding, bathing, grooming, and walking their animals so they’ll look (and behave) their best in the arena.

In 4-H there is also a class called “showmanship” were the kid is judging on how well he or she shows the cow (or whatever animal). This is a great event for 4-Hers because since it really gives credit where credit is due: to how hard the kid has worked to get their animal ready. The animal must still be clean, well-behaved, well fed, and well presented, but the winner is the kid with the best showing style and ability, not the prettiest animal.

The judge determines which animal most resembles a theoretical ‘perfect’ animal. Dairy cows are judged 15 percent on “frame” or how they are built: are they long, tall, and straight; 25 percent on “dairy strength” or how round her ribs are and how strong she looks; 20 percent of rear feet and legs or how easily and athletically she walks and how sturdy her legs and joints are; and 40 percent on how deep and wide her udder is.

If you’re wondering through the barns at the fair, keep in mind: these animals are only at the fair for a few days and then they go home. On show days, the exhibitors may be in quite a rush to get all the animals ready and it may not be the moment to try to pet a cow (particularly if you want to pet a white cow and you have just eaten a strawberry milkshake that has melted all over your hands!). On the non-show days though, most people will be happy to talk to you about their animals. Just make sure you ask before you try to pet any animals–you never know if an animal is a little flighty or nervous (or possibly just not very nice).

Things to look for when you watch a show:

1. Watch the judge, see which animals he or she is looking at the longest and try to guess what they’ll do!

2. Look at the animals: it’s always fun to pick your favorite and see if you and the judge agree.

3. Watch the exhibitors: I’ve seen little bitty kids showing 1400 cows (adorable) and it’s always fun to see how intense most of the exhibitors are. They really want to win!

4. When the judge starts “pulling” animals it usually means he or she is assembling the line up. Watch the judge to get the pattern down–they tend to either pull the first place or last place animal first. In big classes, the judge often needs to sort the lower-placing animals out first so he or she can take a closer look at the more competitive animals. During a championship drive, they normally walk up and shake the hand of the winning exhibitor and then pick the reserve champion.

It’s generally OK to clap, cheer, etc–although generally at horse shows a little more decorum is appreciated so as to not frighten the horses. Basically, you shouldn’t be celebrating so loudly that you cause a stampede.

Enjoy the fair! Any questions about livestock shows? Ask me in the comments!