The Missouri State Fairgrounds hosted the largest event of its kind in the nation Saturday and Sunday as 132 active exhibitors participated in Stock Show University.
In its second time to be hosted at the fairgrounds, the event saw an estimated 400 people, making it the largest stock show university in the history of the United States and was second only to two recent events hosted in Australia and Canada last month for providing hands-on livestock training.
The event was a free partnership between the Missouri State Fair Foundation and Sullivan Supply that provided youth from across the state the opportunity to receive hands-on, in-depth information on all areas of cattle exhibition in preparation for the upcoming livestock show season.
“The youth who are here this weekend will learn so many aspects of preparing for exhibiting their cattle, but it really is about so much more than that,” Wendy Faulconer, executive director of MSFF, said Saturday morning. “This is an opportunity for them to continue to develop their values and the lessons of character that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.
“This weekend is about helping these youngsters to develop their confidence in the skills they need but also confidence in themselves,” she added. “It’s expensive to put on a program like this but we view it as an investment in the lives of our youth and so it is well worth it.”
The technical aspects of the program included calf selection, showmanship, feeding, daily hair and animal care and show day clipping and grooming of the livestock.
The participants were not required to but most brought their own calves to the event to receive hands-on instruction from the instructors from Sullivan Supply.
“The Sullivans are always good people to work with,” said David Dick, Pettis County Presiding Commissioner and Livestock Superintendent for the Missouri State Fair. “This weekend is geared for the younger generation of exhibitors and it’s about helping the kids get started right.
“This event gives them the opportunity to explore and learn about how to work with their cattle,” he added. “It helps them to understand the right way to do many of the technical aspects of showing cattle but it also gives them a sense of camaraderie and how to treat and help others.”
Dick and State Veterinarian Dr. Linda Hickman were on hand to discuss changes in the health regulations and rules for those planning to exhibit in the state this year.
“Having the experts in their fields here is one of the benefits that the students and their parents have from coming,” Faulconer said. “Two of the nation’s best fitters (groomers) are here to work with the students this weekend as well.
“Show days aren’t the time to learn technique and this gives them time to work one-on-one with the professors/fitters to help give the kids the confidence to be able to do their own fitting,” Falconer added. “There is a one to 10 ratio of instructors to students and so the hands on information and training the receive this weekend is invaluable.”
For the professors, the seminar was an opportunity to give back to a career and way of life they are passionate about.
“This is all I have really ever known,” said Josh Elder, manager of show and sale cattle for Sullivan Farms and a master professor. “They told me I went to my first cattle show when I was 3 days old and so for me and the other educators who have grown up with this it is a way to give back what we know and help others to learn.”
Justin Johnson, owner of Prestige Cattle Co. and a master fitter, laughed when he said he went to his first cattle show when he was still inside his mother’s womb.
“For me showing livestock is where I learned so much about the values that are important to me and my life,” Johnson said. “I learned about responsibility and dedication and competition and a work ethic.
“The work that you put into your animals is what you will get out of them,” he added. “For most of these kids they are up before sunrise working and feeding their cattle, then they go to school and probably have ball practice or some responsibility they have to attend to then it’s back home and they work with their animals again before their dinner and homework. It takes a lot of commitment but you get so much out of it too.”
For Faulconer, whose son shows livestock, she couldn’t agree more.
“I don’t know of anything else I could have done to teach my son some of the most valuable lessons he has learned, other than his time raising his cattle,” Faulconer said Saturday. “It taught him lessons of integrity, of how to lose gracefully and how to win with modesty.
“The values of developing a work ethic that are so important too come through this; I remember one time my son said he wasn’t feeling well and he didn’t want to go out and feed his calf that morning, I looked at him and asked him when his grandfather was sick who took care of his cattle for him,” Faulconer recalled. “He looked at me and said, ‘grandpa did,’ and then he went out to tend to his calf.”
Faulconer added that those memories and generational bonds were the glue that unites families who grow up showing livestock.
“I don’t know of many other ways that families spend so much time together than they do if they show cattle,” Faulconer said. “Every year at the State Fair I look around at the families that have been coming for decade after decade to exhibit here; how many other events can you think of that brings people together year after year like that?
“It’s the memories that are made and the bonds,” she added. “It’s really all about the people it grows and develops; that’s why we do this.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484