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Life Lessons in the Barn

Young, Beginning, Small & Veteran Farmers

The State Fair of Virginia wrapped up this past weekend, and with it, things will begin to slow down for many families that participate in livestock shows (there are still a few shows coming up, but the big push is almost done).  Over the last several months, many of these families have participated in Regional and Preview shows, Junior Nationals, county and state fairs, and even national shows in many different states and areas across the country.  That was definitely the case for our family when I was growing up, and we are starting the same tradition with our boys.  Early mornings, late nights, months of work at home before going to the show, and a lot of work for one day; sound fun?

You wouldn’t be alone if you said no.  It sounds like a lot of work, and it is; early mornings and late nights before school, turning down invitations to parties, and for many no summer vacation (except for the shows).  Add to that, at each show someone is going to win and someone is going to lose…and its almost a guarantee that even with a good animal and a lot of hard work, you won’t always win.  So why do it?  Why spend the time and the money to do all of this, just to go to a show and possibly lose?

Because, for most of these families, it’s not about winning.  Do they like to win?  Of course!  Do they celebrate when they win?  You bet.  But for them, the winning is the least of it.  Owning, caring for and showing livestock is about character.  It’s about hard work and perseverance; winning with grace and losing the same way.  It’s about shaking the judge’s hand and saying thank you, even if you didn’t agree with him.  It’s about listening to the advice, suggestions and criticisms and using them to improve.  It’s about caring for something more than yourself; an animal that depends on you for food, water and care.  It’s about taking the hard knocks and rolling with the punches, about learning that life isn’t always fair and that you can get through those tough times.  It’s about realizing that spending a lot of money on an animal isn’t a guaranteed way to win; and learning that life is fragile.  That calf you bought that you worked so hard with can get sick or die, that ewe that you kept and bred to produce next year’s show lambs can lose her lambs, that pig that looked so good when it was young can go off feed and not be ready for the show.  These things can happen, and how you handle them will help shape who you become.  It’s about learning how to feed an animal, how to look at it to tell if it is not feeling well, learning how to create a balance sheet, keep records, pay bills, and understand expenses and income.  It’s about making friends you would have never made otherwise, meeting people from different towns, different states, maybe even different countries, and realizing that common interests can reach across great physical distances.

For parents, it’s about building leaders, kids who are kind and caring, who listen and work hard to improve, who know what it feels like to win and to lose.  It’s about teaching your kids that the person you are is more important than the ribbon you hold; that you’re never too busy to help someone who is struggling with that heifer that doesn’t want to walk, even if that heifer beat you in class earlier.  It’s about raising people we’d be proud to know and call friends; people who are loyal, strong, kind and hard working.

That blue ribbon or purple banner?  Its icing on the cake.  The lessons, experiences, connections and friends that come from showing livestock?  That’s the real reason these families do it. 

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