Waiting to see the fruits of her efforts
July is one of the busiest times for 4-H'ers preparing to show at the county fair, and the closer county fair gets, the more time and energy they put into their animals and projects.
Jenny McKinnon, who is soon to be a sophomore in high school, is no exception and while she may not be a seasoned high schooler yet, she is most certainly a seasoned cattle showman with about six years under her belt of leading a steer into the show ring at the Crook County Fair.
"I wouldn't say there is like one climactic part (of fair) but fair is just one of my favorite things of the whole year. Being there after you have done all the hard work and you just get to finish up and it's really fun," she said.
Different than many showers, each year McKinnon's steer comes out of her family's approximately 200-head-cattle herd, as do the steers shown by her siblings instead of being purchased as a single project animal from somewhere else.
The steers are selected in the fall, sometime in October or November, and that's when McKinnon said they start to halter break.
"It depends on the steer, but the first time its usually just get them in the chute, put the halter on and let my dad get drug around," she said chuckling.
Throughout the year, McKinnon spends time leading the steer around and getting it used to doing different things. She noted that in the wintertime when it snows she isn't able to work with the animal as much but once summer hits, she spends several hour a day with them leading up to fair.
This year, her steer Sebastian has a personality that she just can't quite put her finger on.
"I feel like he is a little smarter than my other steers or something," she said, adding that he has good days and bad, but she said overall she doesn't know how to describe him.
Like many steers around feeding time, as McKinnon led him out of his pen, the red-angus-cross steer didn't really want to keep moving, having been out and about with the 4-H'er earlier in the day as well. But once she got him going, he moved alongside her wherever she went. Occasionally, he would stop and she would have to get him going again, all a part of the process of working with a show animal.
"It's a lot of work and you definitely get what you work for. If you don't work at it then it's not going to go well," she said.
McKinnon has been around cattle for most of her life since her family runs a whole heard. She also mentioned how when she was 5 or 6 years old, she got a bottle calf from her uncle and then when she was older, in the fourth grade, she began showing in 4-H. Now her younger siblings show as well.
"It's really fun to go from being the little kid from people helping you and learning from them, to being the bigger kid and teaching other kids," she said.
As fair gets closer, she said they begin to meet with their club more often to work with their animals as a group. For example, she said, "this week we are going to do hoof trimming and clipping on their faces."
Sebastian isn't the only livestock McKinnon has and possibly is not the only entry she will take to the fair this year either.
"Well, I have a heifer and a calf that I might be able to bring to the fair if I can get the calf halter broke, so that would be fun if it works out," she said. "I had my heifer there last year, but obviously she didn't have a calf."
Comparing showing the heifer to the steer, McKinnon said with steers, "You have more time with them and you don't have to take them out to get bred and bring them back in." With heifers, "You get less time and when they come back (from being bred) they are not as good as when they left," she said. "But, it is fun to keep them from year to year."
When showing a market animal at the fair, no matter if it's a pig, goat, lamb or cattle, following the fair, exhibitors sell their entry to the highest bidder at the end of the week, while breeding animals can return with showers year after year.
"It definitely used to be harder, like my first year that was pretty bad, but I have gotten better I think," she said about watching her steer go after auction each year.
"I think steers more than any other animal, it's like they have a personality, kind of, and it's easier to get attached to them," she said.
After quite a few years, McKinnon has several highlights from different fair years including placing second in the carcass contest one year. "That was really cool. It shows that even if you don't do as well as you thought you would at the fair, the judge can't see everything I guess," she said.
Because the family raises the cattle the kids show, one year McKinnon was also awarded the Born and Bred award. At the time, any animal raised by the owner's family could be considered for the award, but it has since been changed to stipulate that the mother of the animal must be owned by the individual exhibitor who is entering the animal, not just their family.
So in other words, if her breeding heifer was to have a bull calf, and then that calf became the steer that she raised to show at the fair, she would again be eligible for the contest.
Overall, 4-H for McKinnon has been a learning experience and fun along the way and she has enjoyed growing up in the program and becoming a mentor to some of the younger kids.
"You definitely learn a lot of lessons and get to teach other kids," she said.
At the end of the day, when all that hard work walks into the show ring embodied by McKinnon, and this year Sebastian, it can be difficult.
"Sometimes the steers get a little antsy and don't like the judge. Last year, my steer really didn't like the judge, so sometimes it's not really fun," she said, noting that because her and her siblings keep their steers together in the same pen, when they are split up they tend to get a little more nervous.
"If you are calm it helps a lot, which is also hard, she said. "I am definitely still learning."
"It is a lot of work," McKinnon continued, "but if you have the time and you can put the energy into it and you have the people around you that can support you and help you put the time into it, then it's a really good experience for anybody."
The work isn't over for McKinnon and Sebastian this year, that is for sure. The Crook County Fair runs August 7-10, and the pair will be busy in and out of the ring and seeing how all of their effort pays off.
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