By Kim Walter
WOODSTOCK -- The thought of getting too close to a steer used to frighten Nicole Kibler.
Now, it's her favorite animal to show and be around, and her ease with the large livestock was obvious during Tuesday afternoon's 4-H/FFA Beef Showmanship and Market Steer shows at the Shenandoah County Fair.
Nicole, 16, of Edinburg, has been showing livestock for about seven years. She admitted that it is a bit of a family tradition, since her father competed in the same categories years ago. Her younger sister, Jenna, was a fellow competitor in the steer show.
Starting as a 4-H participant and growing up on a farm, Nicole has become increasingly involved in agricultural activities. She recently joined Central High School's Future Farmers of America chapter.
Even though she also shows goats, Nicole said she continues to prefer the steers.
"I mean, yeah, they require a ton more work and time, but it's so worth it in the end," she said Tuesday. "It feels really good to bond with such a large animal, and be responsible for its basic needs. I love it."
After the preliminary round for the senior level Beef Showmanship Show, Nicole was happy to be one of two participants who would go on to compete for senior champion.
The showmanship competitions focus less on the animal, and more on the youth's ability to show it and "make it look good."
Having won similar awards in the past, the 16 year old was pretty confident in her ability to succeed this time around. All week, Nicole has been tending to her 1,305-pound steer, Ace. Daily duties include washing, cleaning, feeding and ensuring that he gets plenty of rest.
She also has been studying all of the detailed information about her animal so she would be prepared for any questions presented by the show's judge. Often, judges will ask participants for details about the animal's background, breeding potential or what changes might make the animal ideal.
"I made my dad sit down with me every night and go over Ace's weight, breed, how much food he needs ... everything about him," she said.
In the hours leading up to the show, Nicole also made sure to check that her steer remained calm.
"Ace is more of a laid back steer, thankfully," she said. "But this is a pretty big arena, so you never know how the animals will react. It's better to keep them calm as much as you can so they don't freak out as soon as they step into the ring."
Even though she has more showing experience than her younger sister, Nicole couldn't help but worry that she would lose her reigning Grand Champion Market Steer title to the 14 year old.
While Jenna did take home the prize for Champion Heavy-Weight Market Steer, Nicole's expertise prevailed.
The results from Tuesday's events showed that Nicole was named Grand Champion Beef Showman and Grand Champion Market Steer.
Nicole doesn't have too much off time before she has to start preparing for next year's events. She'll get her new cattle in just a few short months, and will have to deal with the start of a new school year next week.
Either way, Nicole said she is grateful to be able to compete, and encourages anyone even remotely interested in agriculture to check out 4-H and their local FFA. She said both organizations call for extra work, but she never regrets participating.
"This is such a great way to end the summer," Nicole said with a smile on her face. "I already can't wait for next year."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org