By Marlee Moore
Whirring fans, splashing water, buzzing clippers and excited chatter filled barns around Teague Arena March 18-20 as nearly 200 youth prepared to lead heifers and steers around the ring at the Jr. Beef Expo (JBE).
The Alabama Farmers Federation manages the premier livestock show, which is presented by Alfa Insurance and held in conjunction with the SLE Rodeo.
But before families haul cattle — and children — to Montgomery, months of show preparation are necessary.
In Jemison in Chilton County, sisters Lillian and Claire Smith spend about two hours daily with their calves. They brush, rinse and blow dry the animals to improve hair quality. That’s in addition to walking calves to relax their gait and familiarize them with directions. The girls, like their fellow showmen, use a halter, show sticks and verbal cues to direct the animals.
“It gives you something to go home and do every day,” said Claire, 9.
Preceding the daily dedication is a big decision — choosing which calf to show.
“We have to find the right calf for the right budget,” said Bridgett Smith, Lillian and Claire’s mother. “My husband, Jason, is dedicated to looking at cows. Cattle are like humans; they all have personalities.”
Training those personalities to perform well in the ring is a hefty task for showmen, no matter their age. Many youth, such as Lillian and Claire, start showing animals like goats when they’re younger before showing cattle at age 9, their first year of competition eligibility.
“Goats were fun, but cattle are even more fun,” said 11-year-old Lillian. “You go into the ring and show off what you’ve done. When you win or get first in your class, it pays off.”
Claire added, “When you go out in the ring, it feels awesome.”
For the Smith sisters, the preparation paid off at JBE. Lillian’s Chianina and Hereford heifers were reserve champions in their respective divisions. Claire’s Shorthorn Plus heifer was also division reserve champion.
Overall, Greer Jones of Pike County exhibited the grand champion market animal, while Avery Ruf of Limestone County exhibited the grand champion heifer.
Show coordinator Brady Ragland thanked youth, families, sponsors and volunteers who annually make JBE a success.
“As soon as one show finishes, we take a breath and start preparing for the next year. And we know these families do the same thing,” said Ragland, the Federation’s Beef Division director. “It’s amazing to see youth come back year after year and build on their skills in the ring. These are the future leaders of Alabama agriculture, and we’re proud to support them.”