Having spent time in the Soviet Union, Turkey, China, etc., I thought I knew what it felt like to be in a different world. But those were easy to prepare for. The languages were different, I had long hours on airplanes, etc. This week’s trip to the North American International Livestock Expo (NAILE) felt similar in someways. Now before anyone is offended, let me explain.
Since a livestock show was all new to me… I had to wonder about the basics and do a little research. I had a few friends who had been so I asked questions. I also sought moral support from people who weren’t sure what to expect. And was amazed by how many people said they wanted to know what I’d find out!
As my previous post said, it started in the Memphis airport as a great guy named Marty Ropp gave me a few tips & later handed me reading material from the Simmental association. From there, I became dependent on friends — some whom I’d never met, others I’d known briefly, and others long-time friends. I needed everyone of them!
In retrospect, Sunday was spent trying to get my bearings. I was naive enough to think I was learning some things as Mike & Pam Haley as well as some of their friends walked me through some basics. I spent time with them in the barn, seeing at least what breeds were there. And I watched some of the show… please don’t ask me any questions about that and I’ll tell you no lies! While I’m a multi-tasker who thinks mosaically, the two rings with different breeds side-by-side, kept me a bit confused.
Sunday night I did my first visit with a non-ag friend. And I’m sorry to say, I think I was able to convince Mark & Denise I’d learned a thing or two!
Monday was spent going a bit deeper. Mike & Pam had a heifer they were putting in the auction so they were busy with prep. I divided time by visiting with them in the stall as work was going on, trying to stay out of the way and yet ask questions. They and friends from the Missing Rail were so gracious helping me pick up things that probably seemed innate to them.
I also spent time in the show… both on my own and with my friend Andy Vance. Andy has shorthorn cattle. Sitting with him reminded me of going to baseball games with some friends. He had a scorecard of sorts… all the breeders & buyers did. And close notes were taken. I began to find out how judges made determinations. Most had an eye on two things — the appearance of the cattle and the contributions they could have to breeding in an operation.
It finally snapped in that this was not as foreign as I’d been thinking. I have talked to LOTS of breeders… they just tend to work with plants! The physique of the animals began to make more sense as I listened to the judges describe the entrants. And by Monday evening’s auction, I was feeling like I may have understood a percentage of what was being said. Again, I took a mental break to see a friend who was intrigued by my decision to attend a livestock show for vacation.
By Tuesday, I’d hit my stride a bit. Mike, Pam & the team from Missing Rail had both stalls hopping with prep of the heifers, cow & bull to be shown. (Yes, I even started to call them by more accurate labels rather than simply saying cattle! My hosts were proud. Okay, that may be taking it too far, but I do think they noticed. : )
By having two days of some shows, I was actually able to follow the judges comments for the post part! Black Simmental heifers don’t all look the same — I actually followed what they were saying as the animals were showed around the ring. I was so impressed as Pam showed three — two heifers in different age classes and a bull. And when they slowly pulled all the heifers but two out… we knew that Midnight was getting a great ribbon & would be back out for a show. Durango (the bull) was the last of the list to show. He also got a second turn in the ring.
Some of the things that stood out for me:
- The role of genetics, testing both pre-sale and on-site added a depth of info I didn’t expect.
- Competition between breeders/breeds is friendly but serious too. People love the choices they’ve made for their own farms.
- To a person, everyone was welcoming even if they thought I was from Mars having never been to a livestock auction/show. Everyone was very willing to talk about their operation, how they approach beef production, herd management, etc.
- Questions asked were answered… even when I felt kindergartners on-site could help me build my knowledge base.
- The animals I saw were incredibly well cared for. They were combed, stalls were made incredibly comfortable (risers, fans, woodchips, etc.)
- Owners & handlers worked incredibly hard some getting only a few hours sleep, standing on hard ground, etc (unlike the cattle!) And while the cattle were routinely fed & watered… well, some of the farmers weren’t!
- The focus is on how to build a better cattle herd on individual farms and across the country. The network is incredible! People who have one breed, know the reputations of the others in that breed and you can see the respect for people who put a lot into their cattle & yield returns.
- The ability to trim up a bull or heifer is something I’ll never be able to do… I’d be too jittery and the result would not be good for sales or showing!
As I get some time to really look through my photos and videos, I’m sure lots more learnings will come to mind — I should have been taking notes!
Oh… and I failed to mention, if you ever need cowboy boots… A show like NAILE is the perfect place to buy! I got a great pair! So like any trip to another world, I brought back a lot of photos, some new ideas and a bit of that world to integrate into mine. And I think I may just revisit it!
I also wrote a blog post for the National Cattlemans Beef Association’s Young Producers’ Council blog. You may enjoy taking a look at it. Click here.
See another post I wrote on the topic at Electric Cattle & Powerful Cattle Shows