Essays Over Show Cattle

The new metaphor is instructive. In the past, we have viewed the quest for nomination as a horse race: with front-runners, also-rans, dark horses, bolters, shoo-ins and running mates. In the future, as earlier campaigning causes less individual ''running'' and more comparative ''showing,'' we may turn to cattlemen to learn the figurative criteria for best-of-breed livestock: I am told this includes structural soundness, freedom of movement in the showroom, muscle systems, testicular development, temperament, and straight lines (no dip in the back).

With no disrespect intended to an impressive group of very human beings, here are a few good steers about those who showed in Atlanta. Reubin Askew, the former Florida Governor: Has a gentle temperament but lacks political muscle. Might yoke well with a Northern liberal. (Georgia's Senator Sam Nunn, also present but not as a candidate, would do that balancing job better; he twitted a pundit with, ''You always pair me with someone who needs a lot of balance.'')

Dale Bumpers, Arkansas Senator with an appeal to the charisma-hungry, fresh-face-yearning Kennedy following: Moves warmly and well in the showroom, good potential muscle development. Cracker-barrel speaking style offers a fair degree of finish to what may be an excess of subcutaneous quasi-intellectual fat, but skeletal structure leans left.

John Glenn, Ohio Senator with a much-improved speaking style who shows surprising strength among centrist and conservative Southern Democrats: Excellent structural placement, engaging temperament, very little flexibility in the back. Not too smooth an appearance, which can be an advantage. As a party-builder, he might be too heavy in the shoulders.

Gary Hart, Colorado Senator with more experience than the others in building grass-roots support among activists willing to ring doorbells: Fine issues muscling - ''recovery is not enough'' - good placement, cool temperament, clean lines, but the judges don't warm up to him.

Ernest Hollings, South Carolina Senator whose good-ol'-boy style would be a godsend to Republicans: has difficulty with placement, uneven muscling.

Walter Mondale, former Vice President with access to Carter network in South and appeal to growing Southern black vote, who turned on the crowd late in the evening: Structurally very sound, with organization everywhere; snorts rippingly, feet and legs able to move long distances. Adequate muscling, too-smooth appearance, changing placement as he rejects portions of his pedigree.

To any lover of politics, the evening was a delight. The new wrinkle in the old system (and does anybody know who coined the political term ''cattle show,'' perhaps in 1979?) bids fair to produce better-financed parties and better-prepared candidates.

It was nice to see Gerry Rafshoon and Hamilton Jordan again. As Andrew Young, Mayor of Atlanta, put it: ''Bert throws a good party.''

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Having grown up showing cattle through 4-H and FFA, August always brings fond memories of county and state fairs. Although it has been many years since I’ve felt the thrill of leading a steer into the show ring for competition, I know that many of the lessons I learned during my showing days are still with me.

And, having our oldest child turn 8 last month, I’m eager for him to start experiencing some of the same.

I know that in recent years as times seem to have gotten busier and costs have gone up, many families have stepped away from the extra expense of showing livestock. With my budget-minded husband, we’ve had that very conversation at our house. But nonetheless, I believe there are many important values that young people gain from showing livestock – such as work ethic and responsibility – which is something they’ll carry with them their whole lives. It truly is an education with many practical applications to the beef industry and beyond.

Here are some of the lessons that have stayed with me:

Genetics and nutrition are the foundation. As a young 4-H’er, I quickly recognized that to find success with your calf in the show ring, a good investment in quality genetics and being educated about properly feeding and caring for your animal is essential. Most successful cattlemen today recognize that as well. Genetics and nutrition are key to producing quality cattle that perform well in the industry, and ultimately for the consumer.

It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. My siblings and I spent the better part of every summer day working with our livestock – from halter breaking, washing and clipping our animals to cleaning out the barn. It was definitely work, but our reward was going to the show, having a good time with other families, and, sometimes winning the champion plaque or buckle. I learned responsibility, organization and planning ahead, and how to work with others – my sister and two brothers! Today, that work ethic has carried over into my own career. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment from a good days work – and I think many in agriculture feel the same.

Details count. Probably one of my favorite lessons is the fact that paying attention to details does make a difference. At the show, keeping the stalls and animals clean makes a good impression – on competitors and the non-ag public. Presenting an animal that has been clipped and fit to make him look his best also makes a difference. And, most importantly, when you are in the show ring, pay attention to your competitors and the judge. If he waves you into the top spot and you miss his call, someone else might be moved to the top of the class. In life, details count as well. Anyone can be average, but it’s the extra details that can make each of us extraordinary. Likewise, we need to pay attention to the industry around us, work to keep the non-ag public informed about agriculture and keep making a good impression.

Sometimes you’re not meant to win – and that can be the greatest lesson of all. My family was fortunate in that we earned several grand or reserve champion titles with our cattle and showmanship skills. But, looking back, while I remember the winning moments, my sharpest memories are of the times I didn’t win. And, I realize that those were the experiences that shaped my success the most. Of course, you have that moment where losing doesn’t feel so good, but handling defeat fueled me to keep competing, correct my mistakes, review the details, and work harder. There is no greater life lesson than that. No matter what life hands you, you pick your self up, stay positive, and keep moving forward.

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