For hundreds of youth across Alabama, fall fair season means one thing — it’s livestock show time.
That translates to family time for youth like Josie Shirley of St. Clair County, one of about 250 exhibitors to compete in livestock shows during the Alabama National Fair Oct. 4-14.
The Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance annually sponsor shows at the Montgomery-based fair, along with the National Peanut Festival in Dothan Nov. 1-10.
“I like showing livestock because I like to spend time with family, and I like to go places with my family,” said 10-year-old Cole Eubanks of Cullman County, who showed Charolais cattle from his family’s Holly Pond farm.
On the fair circuit, youth may exhibit beef cattle, goats, sheep, dairy cattle or swine, in addition to competing in showmanship contests.
Preparing for the show ring is no small feat, with youth spending hours each day in the barn learning to fit their animals.
“You fix their hair the right way and brush it till it’s right,” Eubanks said. “After that you walk into the show ring and are ready to go.”
Students also compete in Premier Exhibitor Contests, which test livestock knowledge, evaluation skills and showmanship. Mary Hannah Gullatt of Lee County was named the Intermediate Division High Individual and echoed Eubanks’ thoughts on training.
“We work the calves every day washing, drying and practicing,” said Gullatt, 15, who lives in Salem and was inspired to show cattle because of her older sister, Grace. “We spend a lot of time in the barn and mainly learn about working hard.”
Gullatt exhibited the Market Show Bred and Owned Reserve Grand Champion and Hereford Division Reserve Champion Heifer. Her 11-year-old brother, Silas, exhibited the Hereford Division Bred and Owned Reserve Champion Heifer. Gullatt said her experiences showing cattle encouraged her to pursue joining a livestock judging team in college.
Josie Shirley of St. Clair County took fourth place in Beginner Showmanship division in the Youth Sheep Show during the Alabama National Fair in Montgomery Oct. 13.
Lessons learned showing livestock will resonate throughout the lives of these youth, said the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Brady Ragland.
“Responsibility, dedication and hard work are just a few of the traits students pick up through showing livestock,” said Ragland, the commodity director who oversees the Federation’s youth livestock programs. “They also get an up-close look at Alabama’s No. 1 industry, agriculture. It’s important to invest in these youth and help cultivate characteristics we need in future agricultural leaders.”