Livestock competitors bring experience to county fair

By Josette Keelor

Area children showing livestock at the Shenandoah County Fair might be young but they bring years of experience to help them lock horns with the competition.

Braden Stern is only 9, but the Lebanon Church resident has been training to show steers since he was about 4 years old. Each year he attends the Frederick County Fair with his mother Samantha Stern, agriculture education teacher at James Wood Middle School in Frederick County, and he has participated in four or five bucket calf shows, bringing calves up to a couple months old.

“I only showed cows, so it’s my first year for sheep and pigs,” Braden said. “I just wanted to see what I like the best out of the three and then I might choose only one for the next couple of years.”

He has raised two of each animal and will participate in five shows, showing only one of his heifers because they’re in the same weight class.

“I guess my mom got me into it because she showed sheep when she was little,” he said. “She wanted me to show when I’m 9, right now.”

Tiffany Heishman, 14, of Strasburg, also followed in her parents’ footsteps when deciding to show goats and steers.

Her parents Ray and Tracey Heishman were in the Future Farmers of America club at Strasburg High School, respectively, from 1986 to 1989 and 1988 to 1992. Tracey Heishman was club president in 1992.

A rising freshman at Strasburg High School, Tiffany said she’s been showing goats since she was Braden’s age and decided the following year to add cattle to her routine.

“It’s just a great experience and it teaches you so much about responsibility because the animals can’t take care of themselves,” she said.

She said she joined 4-H as a Cloverbud because of her friends.

“I grew up to love it,” she said. “Everyone, they’re so nice and they all want to help you.”

Heishman will attend the state 4-H Congress in Atlanta at the end of November after winning the public speaking category for her presentation, “I’m not the farmer’s wife.” She also earned her way to the FFA nationals in agriscience with her project “What’s growing on your cutting board?”

“Most people don’t even think about that when you’re cutting your food,” she said.

Using the lab at Valley Milk Products in Strasburg, she tested which cleaning supplies did the best job cleaning cutting boards contaminated with meat.

“Clorox wipes and hot soapy water were the cleanest,” she said. She scrubbed the boards by hand and said she also found that glass cutting boards were more sanitary than wooden or plastic ones.

Tiffany also shows crafts at the fair, planning 30 entries, including a gingerbread house, a birdhouse and recycled items, “Whatever I can do throughout the summer,” she said.

In preparation for the fair, Tiffany sent out about 30 letters to area residents and businesses hoping to spread the word about her show.

“At county fair, it’s a cattle auction, so the more letters you send out the better chance you have [of selling],” she said. “The more people you have bidding the higher the prices go.”

“If anyone wants to come bid, they just need to call the [Virginia Cooperative] Extension agent,” she said.

Limited to selling two animals a year, she said she plans to sell one cow and one goat. Then at the state fair in Caroline County, “You can sell as many as you want,” she said.

After fair season, she will buy her show cows for next year and start the process again, raising cows to show and selling them to a buyer to use for meat.

In addition to the fair, she has four cattle shows in the winter followed by three or four goat shows. Each fall she usually welcomes about 20 new baby goats.

“This year I had more of animals that I’ve raised myself,” she said. She bred and raised all of her 16 boar crosses and two purebred boar goats herself, except for one. “It was more of the full experience.”

When Braden attended the Frederick County Fair last month, his mother explained, it was a different experience than in past years.

They go every year, she said, but “he especially went to watch and learn and pay attention … to watch skills of other showmen, to know what to do.”

Now preparing for the Shenandoah County Fair, she said, “This is his first real show for competition where he actually will sell his animals.”

And is he nervous? Not according to his mother.

“He’s got big britches,” Stern said. “He thinks he’s this experienced thing, but he’s in for this whole new world of excitement.”

Asked what he’s looking forward to, Braden said, “I guess the rides, they’re kind of fun, but I like showing the best.”

The Shenandoah County Fair will run from Aug. 22-30 at the fairgrounds near the Interstate 81 exit in Woodstock. For information on the fair, call 540-459-3867 or visit http://www.shencofair.com. To bid on an animal, call the Virginia Cooperative Extension office at 540-459-6140.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com