Morgan Pounds has earned her share of champion ribbons in 10 years of showing cattle, but for the 18-year-old Macon East Academy senior, the show ring is about more than purple rosettes and shiny buckles. It’s about family.
“Without showing, our family wouldn’t be as close as we are,” said Morgan, as she prepared for the Alabama Junior Beef Expo in mid-March with her mother, Kathy, and grandfather, Dr. Robert “Doc” Barlow.
“Showing cattle is different from other sports or activities,” added Kathy, 50. “In baseball or softball, as parents, most of the time we’re watching. But with livestock, we can participate together. Sometimes we compete with each other, and I really enjoy being in the ring with my children.”
The Pounds-Barlow family raises registered Brahman cattle in Montgomery County. When Morgan isn’t competing in junior livestock competitions, the family participates in purebred shows across the Southeast and as far away as Texas and Oklahoma.
Morgan said the long hours in the barn, show ring and truck are worth it.
“Without showing, I wouldn’t know what responsibility and hard work mean,” she said. “You can’t just walk in the show ring and expect to win. It takes hard work and dedication. You have to work with your animals every day if you expect to win.”
That’s a lesson she learned from Kathy, who started showing cattle in fifth grade, and Doc, 77, who started showing in 1947 as a 4-Her in Wilcox County.
“Daddy had row crops and a few cattle, and he always worked with the Extension Service. I’m sure the Extension folks were the ones who first mentioned showing cattle,” recalled Doc, who retired from veterinary medicine after 20 years in private practice and 28 years with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.
Almost seven decades later, the harmony of children’s laughter and lowing calves are still music to his ears.
“Showing livestock keeps you occupied,” he said. “It gives children something to do and provides a goal for them to work toward. She (Morgan) makes me proud, and I know she’s learned something that will be useful in life. If you are going to be successful at something, you’ve got to put work and thought into it.”
Kathy, who works with first-time mothers as a nurse with the Gift of Life Foundation, said she loves for the young women she mentors to visit her at livestock shows.
“I teach my young moms about the importance of family time,” she said. “I try to model the importance of family and of teaching life lessons. A child needs to grow up knowing there’s someone to go back to if they ever need them.”
Shared memories are another reason Kathy loves livestock shows. For years, she has shown cattle alongside Morgan; her son, Matt, 26, and daughter Amanda, who was killed in a car accident in December 2010.
One of Kathy’s fondest memories was showing the offspring of a prized Brahman bull with all three children in the Get of Sire Championship at the Houston Livestock Show. They finished in the top five — a prestigious honor.
On another occasion, Amanda was selected American Junior Brahman Association (AJBA) Queen, and Morgan was named AJBA Princess. It was the first time sisters had won the contests, which identify youth ambassadors for the breed.
“That was my favorite memory,” Morgan said.
Special moments span the spectrum from proud, to tender, to hilarious.
There was the time Kathy and her childhood friend tied a calf to a tent pole at a show. The calf ran off, collapsing the tent on the spectators.
On another occasion, Morgan’s knee cap was dislocated during a showmanship contest. She kneeled down, popped it back in place, and finished the show.
And there were the state steer shows when Kathy said goodbye to her calf after a long season together. “I think I cried every year,” she said.
But even when trailer tires go flat or the calves misbehave, Kathy said there’s no place she’d rather be.
“We have a lot of good memories, and we’ve made a lot of friends with like-minded people,” she said.
Morgan, who plans to attend Troy University, said the contacts made showing cattle and the prize money she’s won will help shape her future.
“I put my premiums in a bank account, and once I get to college, I will be able to spend that on food or books,” she said. “I think showing cattle will help me in my career, too. Even though I plan to major in risk management, I want to work in crop insurance, and people will know I have an ag background without having an ag degree.”
She also appreciates how the show ring has helped her navigate the challenges of being a teenager.
“There are so many things now that kids in junior high, high school and college shouldn’t be involved with,” Morgan said. “Livestock showing helps students focus on what’s important. That’s family, staying out of trouble and, hopefully, getting a good job one day.”
Dr. Barlow agreed. Smiling at his daughter and granddaughter from underneath a cowboy hat, the beef industry legend summed up his calf-show philosophy.
“We’ve never been that serious about winning,” he said. “It’s about spending time with family.”