Day 6: Work Ethic

September 2018. My freshman year of high school, and my first year as Vice President of our FFA chapter conducting team. Those familiar with the event know the amount of work that goes into it. Opening ceremonies alone took the entirety of freshman year to learn, but now they’re so engraved into my mind that I could probably recite them in my sleep. There’s always been one part that sticks out to me the most: At the end of opening ceremonies after I have confirmed that all other officers are at their stations, the advisor asks, “Madame President, why do you keep a plow at your station?”, to which I respond, “The plow is the symbol of labor and tillage of the soil. Without labor, neither knowledge nor wisdom can accomplish much. My duties require me to assist at all times in directing the work of our organization. I preside over meetings in the absence of our president, whose place is beneath the rising sun.”

Without labor, neither knowledge nor wisdom can accomplish much. Simple statement, powerful meaning. This response is proclaiming that labor is most likely the single most important factor that determines how much we achieve, and I couldn’t agree more. Having wisdom and intelligence is great, but what purpose do they serve if we don’t utilize them? It’s impossible to reach our greatest potential without the motivation to toil for it. This principle applies to every activity that we participate in, whether agriculture related or not. 

Many worthwhile youth activities instill positive character traits. However, I believe that the junior livestock show industry is the most efficient at integrating responsibility, determination, confidence, leadership, sportsmanship and work ethic into a single package. The work ethic that is required simply to participate, let alone succeed, is the glue that binds the other traits together.

This is what sets stock show kids apart from the rest. We work hard on our projects from an early age, so that showing up early and staying late is second nature by the time we are young adults. We have a drive to succeed that outweighs our desire to sleep in just a little longer. We don’t bat an eye at waking up at 5 AM to feed our projects, or complete any other chores that have to be done before we head off to school. We look forward to the shows, but only because we know we’ve put in the work to make attending a show worth it. We have a love for this industry that makes the hard work not really feel like work at all, and all the while these activities are forming us into the leaders of the future that our country will need. For all these reasons, we would do it all over again if given the chance…and this is why we show.

#thisiswhyweshow #youthlivestockmatters

Day 5: Sportsmanship

Winning and losing. Succeeding and failing. Very different things with a very similar end result: the revelation of one’s true character. 

Before I ever set foot in a show ring, my parents made one thing very clear: no matter my feelings about how a judge placed a class, I would not make those feelings obvious in the ring. I could express my frustration or anger in the truck on the way back to the house or the hotel, but not at any point in time before then. There was a zero tolerance policy for a bad attitude, something that I’ve come to appreciate more as I’ve gotten older. A few years ago at Houston, my dad and I witnessed an exhibitor who had placed Reserve Division storm out of the ring crying; Dad, always the opportunist, used this situation as a teaching moment. He told me, “People watching should never be able to tell how you did based off of the look on your face”- valuable words that I do my best to live by. Whether the judge pulls us first or walks up to our calf for the slap, a good sportsman is one who reacts with humility, dignity, and a heartfelt congratulations to the other exhibitors. 

I would be lying if I said that I never get upset at or disagree with a judge’s opinions. I often have to remind myself that they are, in fact, just an opinion. I’m competitive to a fault, and losing is not something that I relish; it is, however, a necessary part of character development. Frequent success is great for the ego, but detrimental to the growth of a healthy mentality. Losing will happen eventually, and it’s not fun; however, the way that we handle losing defines who we are and the way we were raised. The resentful thoughts will always be there, waiting to be indulged in; a good sportsman learns how to tune those thoughts out. They value life-long friendships over temporary awards. Most importantly, they respond to others’ success in a way that they would want people to respond to theirs. 

I’m a firm believer that perspective is everything, especially pertaining to something like sportsmanship. If we view our show careers solely as an avenue to obtain buckles and banners, then we’re going to be sorely disappointed on the days that we don’t win those awards. However, if we view it as an opportunity to build strong friendships and even stronger character, then we begin to see winning as a bonus, not a necessity. It becomes natural to be happy for someone else’s success when we recognize that we’re all walking away with the same thing: a set of attributes that will serve us well in every area of our lives.

#thisiswhyweshow #youthlivestockmatters

Day 4: Leadership

“ The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” – Seth Godin 

I’m usually not big on using quotes. I prefer putting things into my own words. However, this certain quote emphasizes an aspect of leadership that I see as the most vital. As I tend to do quite often, I’ll explain with a story. 

There are certain memories that stick out more than others. Certain things that make you smile especially hard whenever they cross your mind. Buddy the bottle calf is that type of memory. At age 4, I wasn’t much help with washing show calves or mixing feed, but I could sure spend hours loving on a sweet little bull calf that didn’t have a momma. I think I spent more time in the stall with Buddy than I did with my parents for a few months; I was enthralled by the fact that he followed me around just as much as I followed him. I talked about him constantly; to Mom and Dad, to my friends, and to any unsuspecting soul who made the unfortunate decision of asking if I had any “pets”. Whenever Mom and Dad vetoed my brilliant plan to have Buddy sleep in my room, I dug my favorite Schleigh Angus calf figurine out of the toy box and relocated it to my nightstand so I could give it a kiss before Mom and Dad tucked me into bed every night. 

Twelve years later, I still can’t deny the child-like excitement I experience whenever I’m immersed in agriculture-related activities. The passion I had for the livestock industry when I was 4 has only grown more vigorous since then. While this may not seem to be very monumental, I’m confident that my love for this industry is the single most important factor that has shaped me into the leader I am today. I agree that other factors can lend a hand to forming our leadership capabilities, but we’ll never truly feel fulfilled in our purpose unless we have that unquenchable passion to drive us. People recognize fire in a leader. They notice the ones who love their purpose so deeply that they can’t comprehend a life without it, and they’re drawn to them. This is the kind of leader I strive to be; the kind who motivates, inspires, and sparks that same fire in those who are watching. 

I believe that agriculture instilled in me the core values that comprise who I am as a person, and I know that many others raised in this industry can say the same. For this reason and many others, agriculture is worth preserving for future generations. In a society that loves to criticize and mold ideals to fit its standards, it’s crucial that we know what we’re leading for in order to stay true to our purpose. I’m leading for the little girl who loved her Buddy and thought the whole world should know it. I’m leading for my future kids, who I hope will enjoy the same opportunities that I have. Most importantly, I’m leading for our industry, which has given me the priceless gifts of a passion and a purpose that have allowed me to paint a picture of my future.

Day 3: Confidence

I believe that confidence can either be a learned skill or an intrinsic one. Some learn best by observing others before they take action, and others jump in head first with a Hail Mary. When I was 5, I showed in my very first peewee showmanship contest at a small weekend jackpot. As the other participants began filing into the ring that hot Saturday morning with one of their parents trailing closely behind, I turned to Dad with indignation and asked, “ Do you really have to go in with me?” I’m sure he yearned to say yes, but instead he reluctantly shook his head. Without a backward glance, I sauntered into the ring towing Bessie behind me, pink bow, blingy belt and all. I’ll let you guess which confidence type I possess. 

Prior to this, my showing experience was limited to leading our docile 12 year old Lab, Miller, through the backyard with a rope halter around his neck and a mini show stick in my hand. Nonetheless, I walked into that show ring like I owned the place, and I’ve approached the majority of the situations in my life with that same outlook. However, a recent curveball caused me to reevaluate the role confidence plays in our character development. In early June, after almost a year and a half of battling health issues, I had to get a feeding tube. Unfortunately for me, this was just a few days before the Red Angus State Show in Fort Worth that I was dead set on attending.

 After leaving the hospital with my new accessory in place, I looked in the rearview mirror of Mom’s car and felt my usually omnipresent confidence take a hit. It wasn’t even the visual aspect of it that bothered me; I’ve been known to stroll into our local grocery store in pajamas and wet hair for a late-night ice cream run without a care in the world. It was the self-doubt, settling in against my will, that caused my confidence to suffer. Mom and Dad assured me of the show’s insignificance in comparison to my health and attempted to talk me out of it; ultimately, I disagreed. A few days later, I was walking into the Fort Worth show ring, with the “own it” mindset once again firmly restored. 

The more I reflect on this situation, the more certain I become: confidence is not at all the absence of self-doubt… it’s the ability to greet those doubts with a smile and then show them to the door. Too often, we find ourselves feeling incapable or intimidated the minute that we’re thrown out of our comfort zones. This is when our self-assurance becomes critical. This is when we get the opportunity to build that confidence muscle into something that’s strong enough to conquer the most daunting of circumstances. 

Raising and showing livestock isn’t always fun, and very rarely is it easy. Doubts will creep in, and there’ll be days when we lose heart. Our best donor cow will lose a calf that we couldn’t wait to see hit the ground. We’ll have to feed hay in the middle of summer after a 4 month drought. Market prices will go down and money will get tight. Without a firm, unwavering trust in our purpose as contributors to the agriculture industry, we put ourselves at risk of believing the lie that it’s not worth it. When we remain steadfastly confident, however, we’re able to remind ourselves that the hard work and heartaches we endure are more than worth it for the future of our industry.

Day 2: Determination

Determination. Oh boy. My mom could probably write a book about the woes that accompany raising willful, determined kids. A type of tenacity that’s never disrespectful, but always persistent. A nagging that could lead the most patient of souls to the edge of insanity. Unfortunately for me, I inherited this personality trait from the queen of determination herself, which has led to some interesting encounters over the years. 

It always begins as soon as the schedule for each major stock show is released. I start plotting and scheming, intent on finally constructing an argument strong enough that even Mom couldn’t deny. These efforts all revolve around one goal: getting to miss a day of school to go to check-in. I commence by re-establishing my place as the favorite child. Making beds, picking up dirty clothes, folding laundry, and even changing the toilet paper roll like a modern-day Cinderella. Studying for an extra 30 minutes, resisting my procrastination tendencies, and performing the loathsome task of writing in my planner. All in the name of missing 8 hours of school to spend 8 hours sitting in a hot truck. 

After the “buttering up” phase, I begin the process of ironing out the small details involving school work and tests. These details are the deal-breakers; they’re the aspects that my academic-concerned mother is most interested in, which I’ve garnered from years of observation. After gathering all my assignments and arranging to get tests taken early, I finally sum up the courage to casually bring up the subject of our plans for check-in day. Questions such as “ So are you going with Dad and me on check-in day or coming later?” or “What time do we need to leave by to get in line early enough?” are often employed. Occasionally, I’ll get a straight answer to these inquiries, which signals victory. More often than not, my efforts are proved to have been in vain, and when check-in day rolls around I find myself sitting disgruntledly in a classroom rather than triumphantly in the passenger seat of Dad’s pickup. 

The obvious overruling pattern of failed attempts begs the question: why even bother? Why spend weeks planning when there’s a good chance that the carefully hatched plan won’t succeed? Couldn’t we ask the same thing of showing livestock? Why dedicate so much to this industry when there’s no guarantee of getting more than 5 minutes in the ring at a major like Houston or San Antonio? 

That’s exactly where determination comes in. I believe that this word is too often misused in our society. It’s often heard in the context of “ I’m determined to win” or “ I’m determined to succeed”, but I challenge you to think of it in a different light. I don’t see determination as the will to always win, because that’s something that’s often out of our control; I see it as the will to work hard enough to put ourselves in the best position to win. And if the results aren’t what we were hoping for? Then determination becomes the resolve to pick up, move on, and work a little harder next time. I’m indebted to the livestock industry for many reasons, but one of the main ones is without a doubt the unflinchingly determined individual it’s shaped me to be.

#thisiswhyweshow

#youthlivestockmatters

Day 1: Responsibility

Let me set the scene for you: Fort Worth Stock Show, 2018. I was 14: old enough to drive in the state of South Dakota, and certainly old enough to keep up with my personal belongings in a small cattle barn in Texas. Or so one would think. 

All of our combs were, quite literally, on their last tooth, something that mildly irritated Dad and me at home, but never enough for us to make the colossal effort to get online and order new ones. So with the Sullivan’s trailer right around the corner, I grabbed a 20 dollar bill out of my bag and moseyed over to browse through their selection. Now, it’s important to note one thing in particular about this story: I used my own money. Mom and Dad are always very generous, and had I asked, they certainly would’ve bought it, but I didn’t feel quite as guilty spending an extra $5 of my money on the purple SmartComb with the fancy handle as I would’ve felt spending their money. So I bought my special fancy comb, pocketed the change for a mid-afternoon Stubby’s cinnamon roll(stock show kids, y’all know what I’m talking about), headed back to the stall, and reverently placed the comb on the top shelf of the showbox. After blowing out my heifer later that evening, I absentmindedly stuck the comb in the back pocket of my Stetsons and headed to the ring to watch some of the show. 

Now, before I go any further, I should probably mention that I have quite the reputation for losing or breaking everything, particularly the things I really don’t want to lose or break. I’ve snapped or birds-nested more fishing poles in one day than most people have in one decade, something that’s a little bit of a sore spot with Dad. When I was 8 I found a whole sand dollar at the beach, and then proceeded to accidentally shatter it into pieces by dramatically flinging myself onto my bed where I had set it down just a few minutes before. The reason many of our combs are in rough shape is because of my tendency to drop and then stumble over them with my size 12 feet. After many of these incidents occur, I’m given everyone’s favorite “responsibility” lecture, one that I can almost recite by heart. So when I bought that comb, I knew I would be required to put in a little extra effort if I wanted to take good care of it. 

Unfortunately, I let my guard down, and therefore let myself down as well. By the time I made it back to the stall after watching the show, I had an empty back pocket. I was more upset than usual at my carelessness, and looking back, I think I know why: when I bought that comb, I made a personal investment. It wasn’t Mom or Dad’s money that I threw away; it was my own, and that strikes a little bit of a different chord. I felt like that circumstance mattered more than any other time that I’d lost or broken something. I believe that the same principles apply to our livestock projects: we’re making a significant personal investment into our animals, and that makes them rise in importance above the other things we might feel a responsibility towards. It’s why our hearts drop when we get home from school and see a gate swung wide open and find a heifer with her nose in a half-empty feed sack. It’s why we can barely wake up in time for school, but we’ll spring out of bed at 1AM if an old show heifer is calving. Basically, it’s why we care at all. Because this isn’t something we just do for grins (although there’s plenty of those)… we do it because we feel a responsibility towards the animals who depend on us. 

Fortunately, I’ve come to appreciate the virtue of responsibility quite a bit more since the Fort Worth comb incident. I’ve come to understand, through a series of failures and successes, why it holds such an important place in the livestock industry, as well as in our everyday lives. Responsibility isn’t something that disappears as we get older; in fact, it becomes even more critical. As livestock exhibitors, we have the unique opportunity to practice this quality on a daily basis. While other kids may have to clean the fish bowl once a week, we’re out in the barn early in the morning and late at night every day of the week, mixing feed, cleaning pens, working hair, and filling water tubs. If that isn’t responsibility, then I don’t know what is. It can be easy to lose sight of the “why” behind our actions at times, but it’s something we should all keep in mind. Our hogs, goats, lambs, steers, and heifers are more than a fish bowl we clean once a week. They’re a personal investment, not just of time and money, but of heart, and they’ve taught us the lesson of responsibility well.

This is Why We Show

As I mentioned in my introductory post, the inspiration for starting an agriculture blog came after I attended  the Texas 4-H Livestock Ambassador Short Course this past summer. As a Livestock Ambassador, I am privileged to advocate for the livestock industry and the values that we stand for. 

As a result of the cancellation of the 2021 Fort Worth Stock Show, our ambassador program leaders have launched a social media campaign entitled “ This is Why We Show” to remind us of the many reasons,  outside the show ring, that we participate in junior livestock shows. 

There will be a word for each day of the week starting today, and my fellow ambassadors and I have been tasked with creating social media content pertaining to the word for each day. I’ll be writing a short (read: ridiculously long because I love telling stories) blog post about what each of the words means to me, and I hope both kids and parents in the show industry will be able to relate to some of the examples and stories I include. Be on the lookout for posts throughout the week! I’ll be posting each one on Grow For It as well as on my Facebook page.

#thisiswhyweshow #youthlivestockmatters

Feeding on Fear

“I now say that the world has the technology—either available or well advanced in the research pipeline—to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology?” Norman Borlaug, 2000

A very good question indeed, Mr. Borlaug. This inquiry is even more pertinent today than it was 20 years ago. Will food producers be allowed to fulfill their duty of feeding a growing population by utilizing biotechnology, or will fear mongering anti-agriculturalists stand in the way?

I have strong opinions on a lot of things, and GMOs are near the top of that list. Fortunately, my strong opinions are supported by even stronger facts. More than 2,000 peer-reviewed scientific journals and over 2 decades of research into genetically modified organisms have proven that they are 100% safe to consume. The World Health Organization, American Medical Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all agreed on this as well. In fact, some researchers have pointed out that they’re probably SAFER than non-GMO products because of the extensive testing that they undergo compared to their conventional counterparts. So why do 57% of American consumers believe that it’s unsafe to eat genetically modified foods?

Misinformation is the number one culprit for this widespread consumer anxiety. It also doesn’t help that major companies such as Whole Foods, Chipotle, Abbott, and Trader Joe’s are swearing off GMOs to give consumers “peace of mind”. Some states have even passed laws requiring labels on genetically engineered foods to “help people avoid potential health risks of food produced from genetic engineering”. Instead of deciding for consumers what’s safe and what isn’t, why don’t they provide scientific facts and let us decide for ourselves?

The truth is, some people are starving. They’re starving because they don’t have access to enough food, and they don’t have access to enough food because anti-agriculture groups are unjustifiably protesting against harmless GMOs that have the potential to feed a growing world. They say it’s better to be safe than sorry, but to what extent? To the extent that 821 million people are suffering from malnutrition? I believe this is the single most important battle we’ll have to fight in coming years in terms of food production. We have the resources to grow enough food. We have the bright minds to do so. The only thing we need is the support of consumers in order to overturn the influence of groups touting false GMO claims. We have to stop feeding on fear and start feeding on facts.

Paying the Price

Last week after talking about misleading labels, I decided to do a little investigating to get more detailed information about said labels and compare prices. So on Friday afternoon, I donned my favorite hoodie and lurked around the ridiculously cold meat section in HEB until my fingers turned blue and the guy stocking shelves started looking a little nervous. I wanted to get updated, real life numbers: just how much are unknowing American consumers paying for a phony label?

Following last week’s focus, I mainly payed attention to the poultry and pork products. A pack of “ fresh, natural, no antibiotics ever, no added hormones, no artificial ingredients, no preservatives” chicken breasts was a whopping $4.99 per pound. And the generic brand that didn’t have any of the literary embellishments? $1.99 per pound. A pack of pork loin chops that touted the same “benefits” was $2.49 per pound, and its white label counterpart was $1.94 per pound. Now, I’m not a tightwad in any sense of the word. I don’t mind spending a few extra dollars here and there if I think it’s worth it. But a respective $3 and $.55 extra for sketchy promises that have no nutritional impact on the product itself? I have a problem with that.

I already covered the antibiotic and hormone situation, which are the main confusion-inducing names, so I’ll just address the “ fresh” and “natural” aspects today. “Fresh” is used only on poultry products to show that the meat never reached a temperature below 26 degrees. This has absolutely no impact on the quality of the meat; it’s an attention grabber, just like the rest of the platitudes. “Natural” means that the product doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients or preservatives. It has nothing to do with the way the animal was raised… it simply pertains to the way it was processed. Pretty misleading, huh? Again, none of these things change the nutritional value, which begs the question: why are we paying so much more for it?

The only conclusion I could arrive at is that the vast majority of consumers simply don’t know the difference, and misleading marketing certainly doesn’t help. Bridging this knowledge gap will take a lot of work, especially since the mainstream media has worked tirelessly to convince you that GMOs and antibiotics are akin to nuclear bombs. Next time you’re at the grocery store, take an extra minute to compare labels and make an informed purchase, and you may even save a few dollars! Thanks for reading, and please let me know if you have questions, feedback, or topics you’re curious about!

Misreading or Misleading?

Hormones and antibiotics. Scary words to hear associated with your food, right? Wrong. Let me explain. 

You (or for some of my readers, your mom) are at the grocery store browsing through the meat section, and you reach down to grab a whole chicken so you can make homemade chicken noodle soup in celebration of this delightful 68 degree fall weather. On your right is a chicken wrapped with a pretty label showing happy, pearly white hens frolicking in a green pasture that reassures you it’s “Organic, All- Natural,Cage Free, and Hormone & Antibiotic Free”, and on your left is the generic brand chicken in plain white packaging. The “healthy” chicken is about $3 more per pound than the generic, but hey, what’s $3 in the grand scheme of protecting your body from all those scary things? It’s $3 too much, that’s what.

Every single piece of poultry or pork that you buy in the grocery store has never received hormones. Federal regulations prohibit it! But get this: the meat isn’t hormone free. Every living thing has hormones: you, your cat, and your house plant included. Claiming that the meat is “hormone free” is a flat-out lie, but it sells a lot better than “no hormones added during production”. Companies are required to tell you the truth about the laws regarding anti-hormone production practices somewhere on their packaging, but it’s usually conveniently tucked away in a back corner in the finest print possible.

The same situation can be found regarding antibiotic usage in poultry and pork production- it’s simply not allowed. Labels that boast “antibiotic free” meat aren’t any more special than the ones that don’t. Every piece of meat that reaches the shelves has been tested to ensure that the producer abided by the law and didn’t treat the animals with antibiotics.

When you pay $3 extra for the “healthy” chicken at the store, you’re not buying any sort of special product. You’re buying the label, plain and simple. As consumers, we can’t depend on corporate companies to stop producing misleading labels, but we can get educated and learn to tell the difference. Check back next week for the break-down of organic, all natural, and cage free labels!