Taylor Riedel is right where he wants to be – in the show ring right in the middle of the action.
The 21-year-old Sauk City, Wis., man still remembers as a young boy, watching wistfully from the sidelines as his relatives circled the ring with the family’s dairy cattle.
“I was a bit jealous as I watched them doing what I wanted to be doing,” Riedel said. “Now, it’s my turn and I really enjoy working with and showing the animals just because it makes me happy.”
With the official show season now underway, families across the Midwest have are getting into the swing of following the show circuit, bringing along their best string of show cattle and the truckload of necessities – dairy whites, clippers, show halters and snacks for the inevitable wait times between classes.
Although she had left her beloved Red and White Holsteins behind in Lake Mills, Wis., Carley Krull was eager to join in the excitement at the Midwest Spring Show in Madison on April 23.
The road to the show ring starts with picking an animal with potential. Nathan Arthur, 18, of Sumner, Iowa, said the knowledge he gained on the dairy judging team helped him to develop a good eye for selecting project animals with good characteristics.
“I’ve been known to pick out a few bad ones,” he said with a laugh. “But four years ago, I had a fall calf that placed 10th in the International Junior Holstein Show at World Dairy Expo.”
Showing an animal off to her best advantage requires much sweat equity out in the farmyard as calves are halter-broken and trained. Tammy Hodorff’s four daughters, Kayli, Kalista, Kaianne and Kadence, work as a team as they train their animals for upcoming shows.
The show string cattle are kept in a separate facility on the Hodorffs’ Eden, Wis., farm, with the girls being responsible for their care.
“Knowing that those animals are depending on you for their care teaches a lot of lessons,” Hodorff said. “Sometimes, it gets hard to juggle everything with school, sports, work and other activities, but the girls have a passion for this so we try to make time for this.”
Now as the oldest among those showing in the junior division, Krull said her young cousins look up to her for guidance.
“I try to be a good influence on them and teach them the ethics of the show ring and everything that goes into being a good show person and cattleman,” she said. “I do this because I want the dairy industry to keep getting stronger by supporting youth. Plus, it brings us closer together.”
Although the Hodorff girls find themselves competing against one another from time to time, the sisters are each other’s biggest supporters and helpmates in and out of the show ring.
“When Kaianne won reserve junior champion at the fair a couple of years ago, it felt like we all worked for it together,” Kalista said. “So it makes us feel even better that she won.”
Showing cattle is a tradition for Angela Davis-Brown’s family. When her children were young, strollers and playpens accompanied the show box, as the Dodgeville, Wis., family made their way to the shows.
“We brought plenty of stuff along to keep them entertained. When they were 4, they began showing too,” she said. “It was all hands on deck when it was time to load up and head to the show. And for us, attending and participating in the shows was our vacation.”
Riedel said attending to all the details before show day can be hectic if there isn’t a plan in place.
“My job was making sure the feed was ready and washing all the animals while my uncle was in charge of getting the animals to the show and getting them clipped,” he said. “When you’re little, you think about the midway and concessions, but you have to stay in the barn and take care of your animals. Everyone has a job to do throughout the entire show.”
For the younger showmen, the thought of homework is never far away, especially for longer shows like World Dairy Expo that fall during the school year.
“It’s definitely a challenge balancing school with showing cattle,” Arthur said. “In fact, my homework is usually waiting for me back in the hotel room.”
As the most inexperienced showman in his family, Riedel admits he battled nerves each time he entered the show ring – hoping to win the approval of the judge and his family.
“Of course, you want to make sure your animal looks good and at the same time make your family proud,” he said. “I’ve gained so much confidence over the years and really like being in a leadership role. It’s cool that I get to teach the younger kids now about all the things I love about showing, and hopefully this will keep this tradition alive in the industry.”
While her children have collected their fair share of prestigious awards along the way, Davis-Brown said some of the most valuable lessons her son and daughter have learned had nothing to do with being in the winner’s circle.
“There’s been a lot of laughter and tears along the way and that’s part of life,” she said. “You learn that you don’t always stand on top and being on the on the bottom is good, too, because those experiences help them as they grow older.”
The Dodgeville mother of two says the best advice she has been able to share with her children is setting realistic goals and enjoying the full experience.
“We come to participate. You can’t come and expect that you’re going to win,” Davis-Brown said. “For us, it’s a social time and its wonderful being able to catch up and visit with the people you show against. It’s like a big family.”