By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — Makenna Morgan has been inside and out of the show ring for much of her life. A freshman at Newkirk High School (NHS), she has been exhibiting livestock as an FFA member, most recently Feb. 5, at the Newkirk local livestock show, where she won Champion Hampshire Gilt. Her activity as an exhibitor dates back much further, to 4-H and elementary school, showing hogs since third grade. This year, she is showing both a barrow and a gilt.
“It’s something I really love to do,” she said.
Kaycee Brandon is standing behind the counter at 56 Feed Co., inventorying a pallet of dog food for local pet owners in the community. Like Morgan, she has logged many hours inside the show ring, although their experiences are separated by a few years, having already graduated high school.
“We showed mostly sheep and cattle,” she said, adding that she competed in both 4-H and FFA.
Although they never competed against each other inside the ring, one thing that connects Morgan and Brandon is the livestock, and a love of the ring, a love of the show.
The Kay County Junior Livestock Show will be held Feb. 21- 24 at the Kay County Fairgrounds, Blackwell, with the awards banquet to be held at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 25. Doors open at 5.
Kay County 4-H Educator Liz Nicholson is no stranger to the livestock show circuit, having shown cattle and hogs as a 4-H member herself. She has seen personally what the events can do for the students.
“They teach you a great amount of responsibility and dedication,” she said. “Not only are you responsible for taking care of the animal, I got to be responsible by being able to feed my family with my pig, which became highly rewarding.”
Trenton Scott is a sophomore FFA member and won Champion Commercial and Supreme Champion Heifer. That responsibility in taking care of his animal begins early in the morning.
“You have to get up early and feed, and you keep the same feeding schedule, every day,” he said. “I rinse with water five times a week, and wash with soap once a week, then you have to dry them.”
Morgan likewise puts a lot of work into her projects.
“I make sure they have clean water,” she said. “I make sure the pen is clean, and if it’s dirty, I scoop out the old shavings and give them new.”
The students aren’t alone in making the show possible, and behind the veneer of the show ring lies a whole team of parents, volunteers and leaders, who help keep the shows rolling.
Many 4-H and FFA members are lucky to grow up on a farm, giving them ample opportunities to raise an animal bred on the farm. For others, especially those raised in town, breeders are available to provide the perfect animal project.
Neil Balzer is one of those breeders, who has bred and raised hogs for more than 25 years. The process has many steps, as he seeks to instill the best genetics into future show projects. Those genetics are chosen through winning show pigs, especially barrows, which will be imputed into future winning gilts. Barrows also are sold for projects.
“I try to keep the same bloodline on the winning side, I try to match the genetics,” he said.
Balzer typically sells the pigs about 12 weeks of age, with about 25 – 30 being adopted by 4-H and FFA members each year, both in northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas.
The genetics have paid off not only for Balzer, but also local exhibitors, as Madison Wathor won Grand Champion Barrow, pig bred by Balzer, he said.
Once a project is adopted, there becomes a need for feed and bedding, which can be obtained from farm and ranch stores, like Two Rivers Co-op. Brandon also offers such merchandise at 56 Feed Co. Formerly NAPA Auto parts, she still sells NAPA products, but has expanded merchandise to include not only a clothing and gift boutique, but also pet and livestock needs.
“A lot of 4-H and FFA students come in here, and we have a lot of breeders come in,” Brandon said.
Once in the show ring, the kids are on their own, using the many concepts they have learned along the way as they eye the championship trophy.
“It really fosters responsibility and work ethics, and you put a lot of work into it,” Morgan said.
Even in the ring and pens, the kids are not alone, as many families have showed livestock for more than a generation, each adding valuable insight into winning the shows, and adding many memories in the process.
“My mother grew up with it, so I felt a connection with it in the show ring,” Morgan said.
Meeting new people, and making new friends is one of the ultimate experiences of the shows.
“It’s the people around me, we make a lot of good friends,” Scott said.
Those are the lessons that are learned at livestock shows, whether local, county or state, and as the Kay County Junior Livestock Show looms large in the coming week, those lessons will all be learned on a personal level.
“It’s about unity, and teamwork,” Nicholson said. “I see kids helping each other from the same, and different, towns, even if they show the same animal.”