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Frederick contestants lead steer, cattle to judges

By Garren Shipley -- gshipley@nvdaily.com

STEPHENSON -- If government statistics are accurate, apples remain the king of agriculture in Frederick County.

But don't tell that to the young people at Tuesday's Beef Cattle and Market Steer Show at the Frederick County Fair.

A packed house turned out to see the best cattle and cattle handlers Frederick County had to offer on display.

Keegan Clevenger, 16, of Stephenson, who won the senior showmanship class, explained just what the judge was looking for out in the ring.

"It's all about presenting the animal to the judge," Clevenger said. "How much you can stay out of the way so he can get the best picture of them."

As the judge moves around the ring, handlers conduct their cattle from one place to another, setting them into different stances designed to give the judge the best view of the animal.

Some move gracefully, with the animal and handler seemingly one seamless unit. Others move less gracefully -- not unlike a tow truck trying to drag a smashed vehicle out of deep mud.

That's what showmanship is about, said Keegan -- getting the half-ton animal to do what you want at the right time, and making it look easy.

"It's about that kind of skills, keeping eye contact with the judge," he said.

It's an art that some start to learn early.

Tyler McDonald, 5, took to the ring with a calf about twice his size as part of a bucket calf exhibition. None of the animals in the ring were born before 2009.

Tyler didn't have much to say before he headed in for the show, other than to nod his head to indicate that he was a bit nervous.

His father, Jeremy, was all smiles, though, as the two made final preparations.

"We farm about 3,000 acres so he's involved with it every day," the older McDonald said. "We just want to get him used to showing calves."

Show-day nerves notwithstanding, Tyler has taken to handling calves well.

"He goes out every day and works with her. He helped to clip her up a little bit today, brush her down. He gives her a bath every couple of days," McDonald said.

Being comfortable and smooth with the animal is a skill set that carries over into the next divisions, breeding classes and market steers.

In these classes, the attention turns to the animal, where cattle are judged against a standard, not unlike the judging at a dog show.

"You try to get them to grow hair," Clevenger said, as he prepared his heifer for the next round.

More hair makes it easier to groom the animals and make them look more solid and compact.

"You're judging -- you want them to be wider, you want them to walk sound structurally," he said.

Frederick County is home to about 17,000 head of cattle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

One of the state's largest herds is located just down the road in Rockingham County, where farmers keep more than 113,000 head.

The fair continues through Saturday.

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