A family affair: 4-H members compete in show ring

Ryan Atkins, 14, of Front Royal, leads his steer into the ring during the 4-H senior showmanship contest Thursday at the Warren County Fair. Rich Cooley/Daily

For the senior 4-H members competing in beef showmanship at the Warren County Fair, the night of the show is a fun, family affair.

Three of the 4-H seniors in the Thursday night livestock showmanship competition are cousins — Katelynn Barron, of Fauquier County; Ryan Atkins, of Front Royal; and Angel Kidwell, of Browntown.

Kidwell, who placed fourth Thursday evening, noted, “Even though we’re family, we’re pretty much enemies in the ring.”

Barron, 18, who placed second, said, “I mean, I don’t care if I win or not, I’d rather have fun and make my money.”

The road getting to this friendly family competition is long and includes countless hours with the steer before the day of the show.

Barron started showing pigs and goats at age 11, and said that one of the chief differences between those animals and a steer is the time spent in training.

“You don’t work as frequently with a smaller animal than you do with a bigger animal,” Barron said.

The extensive training for participants like Barron, Kidwell and Ryan starts as soon as the last show ends in August.

Kidwell said, “We have them for almost a year … and pretty much every day you work with them.”

In the hours spent in training after school and during the summer months, 4-H members like Barron are teaching the calves to “set their feet square so that their meat looks better.”

“You just have to feed them correctly, so they grade good and maybe the judge will see how their meat quality is,” Barron said.

In other words, they essentially are fattening the calves up to the right size for the show.

“You don’t want them too fat, but want them just right,” Barron said, noting that a grade of “choice” is the grade they are working toward.

“You get them from like 500 pounds, maybe smaller,” Barron said. “Mine was 1,300 pounds this year.”

Helping with this training process are monthly shows where Ryan, Barron and Kidwell go, as Barron said, “to show off what you got.”

“It helps us when we get here, they already know what to do and you feel more comfortable in the ring,” Barron said.

During the show, Ryan, 14, said the main thing to do is “keep your eyes on the judge and smile.”

At the same time, Barron said that it is important to also keep an eye on the animal – in case it gets spooked and takes off.

“You gotta make sure that you’re not scared of your animal. Your animal can sense that you’re scared,” Barron said. “And when people clap and you get nervous, he’s going to do what he wants to do.”

Once the show is complete, the next step for them is the livestock auction.

Although Barron said that winning can be a boost for the auction, she said making money and selling the steer can also come down to “how big your mouth is.”

In addition, each participant has his or her own ritual the day of the auction.

“I like to talk to the buyers before the sale, and let them understand what and what they’d grade it in weight,” Kidwell said.

Barron said, “I decorate [the steers] every year. I put glitter on them, I dress them up and do fun things in there to have fun and not cry.”

The money that the participants can receive from a livestock auction can help them pay for next year’s steer.

“[Steers] can go from anywhere from $500 to $50,000,” Barron said, noting that feed can cost an additional $3,000 to $4,000 – depending on how many animals you are showing.

Following Friday night’s livestock auction, the process will start all over again for Kidwell and Ryan.

Ryan said, “When we get our checks from this year, we’re already looking.”

Barron, in her last year with 4-H, has graduated from Fauquier High School and will be attending Lord Fairfax Community College. She plans on transferring to the University of Virginia.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com