Over 470,000 people visited the Arkansas State fair this year, with many coming for the food and rides. However, one thing that attracts the attention of many competitive youth in the state is livestock showings.
Last week at the state fair, Future Farmers of America students, members of agricultural clubs, and independent farmers competed against one another to show premier animals from around the state. Many competitors are young people who sacrifice their time and resources to take part in livestock showing.
Kasandra Tajchman, a member of Gravette Gleamers 4-H club, spends nearly three hours rinsing and drying her cattle each night after school and basketball practice.
"It takes a lot of time and effort to do it right. You have to use a lot of time and let go of things you might not want to let go of," Tajchman said.
Tajchman gave up showing pigs and sheep because of how labor intensive showing cattle is.
Cross County High School student Camryn Scott has also made sacrifices to participate in livestock showing as a part of her livestock showing team at her school.
Scott was involved in sports at her high school, but coaches began having issues with the time she was putting into FFA. She quit her sport after realizing she had "bigger and better things to do."
"[Agriculture] is one of the most important things there is in your whole life. You have to realize what is going on and what this world is coming to," Scott said.
Scott took two weeks off of school to show her two market lambs and rabbits at the Arkansas State Fair with her FFA group. Much like Tajchman, Scott spends the majority of her free time preparing for livestock showings.
"The actual work itself is early mornings, late nights, all day shenanigans, so it’s all one big thing together," Scott said.
She said she is already preparing for her next show where she will show cattle, pigs, sheep, rabbits, and possibly goats.
"It is a lot of work that you put into it, and it’s about how well you work with your animal and how much time and dedication you have," Scott said.
Fellow Cross County High School student Samantha Hagler began showing Nigerian Dwarf goats this year. She works with her goats every day to make sure they are walking correctly and ensures that each goat’s hooves are clipped finely for judging.
"It took them a while to learn how to walk properly and brace. Getting them ready by feeding them the right feed and grooming them takes a while," Scott said.
In addition to the time students spend on their animals, they also have to pay to participate in the competitions, with almost all of it coming out of their own pockets.
Many showing-related expenses are paid by the students instead of by the FFA or the school. Both Scott and Hagler contribute their own money to show livestock. Hagler said she spent $700 for her goats and additional money on shampoo, feed, and hay. Scott said she spent $1,500-$2,000 on her livestock and supplies for this year. Scott hopes a new program will be started to offset student costs.
"We’re hoping by the time we graduate we can get an FFA booster club going so we’re able to give back to our FFA chapter and we’re able to give back to these kids who want to show but aren’t able to because they don’t have the funds," Scott said.
Cross County agriculture teacher Jacy Long coaches the livestock showing team, of which Hagler and Scott are members. She said many students initially interested in livestock showing are deterred for financial reasons. Long herself pitches in some funds to help her students. Long drives students to competitions and helps if they cannot afford something.
"I will say I help out a lot. I bought several bags of feed and pay for the gas to get them here and there. I don’t get reimbursed for it, it’s all out of my pocket," Long said.
Long herself has a history of showing livestock. When Long began teaching at Cross County high school, she decorated her office with purple ribbons she earned from livestock showing. Students who visited her office began showing an interest, which led Long to start a livestock judging team through FFA. Long said livestock showing gives students opportunities that extend outside of the classroom.
"Respect is a big thing. I run into that a lot in my classes. I think them getting out there in front of a judge, getting out here in front of you all and the public, teaches them how to talk to people, how to respect people, and how to network. That’s what they need," Long said.
Long encourages students to participate in livestock showing so they can have career opportunities. She said hardworking students that meet with judges and breeders make valuable connections.
Though livestock showing costs both time and money, both Scott and Hagler say they have seen the benefits of livestock showing in their own lives. Hagler said seeing the audience’s reaction to her animals makes her happy. Before she started showing, Hagler was not an animal person. Now she enjoys the time she spends with her goats. Scott said she appreciates the learning experiences she has gained from participating in shows.
"I found livestock showing and I’m happy I found it because you’re helping educate other people and you’re helping educate yourself," Scott said.
Long said that Scott and Hagler are hardworking students. She said that Hagler gets up early to spend time with her goats and feed them, while Scott stays up late giving her sheep cold water baths to perfect their shag.
"They could be inside watching Netflix. They could be out on weekends going to ball games or hanging out with friends. Instead, they’re at livestock shows with me."