When it became apparent that spring livestock shows across North Carolina would be canceled due to COVID-19, youth were heart-broken. Livestock shows are a special time to not only compete with animals they have worked so hard with, but is also a time exhibit their skills and knowledge and see close friends. Livestock shows, whether the NC State Fair or local spring shows, hold a special place in the hearts of these passionate youth and their family.
Knowing just how important these shows are to youth and the positive impact these shows have on their lives, people came together in many ways to support North Carolina showman and provide unique alternatives to the traditional shows.
It seems that everything these days is happening virtually—from Zoom business meetings and graduation parties to classes and church services. Why not livestock shows too?
That is exactly what many across the state and nation did. They held virtual livestock shows to support youth in the best way they knew how.
“We have found ourselves in a time of uncertainty, which has made it more important than ever to showcase youth and let them know we support them and their efforts,” said Brent Jennings, Youth 4-H Livestock Extension Specialist at NCSU.
Jennings coordinated the Virtual State 4-H Livestock Show in order to give youth the opportunity to showcase their efforts, passion, and hard work after local shows were cancelled. Working with NCSU student, Rachel Brown who is also a NC State Fair Youth Livestock Scholarship recipient, they were able to put on a successful virtual show that had several facets.
“Youth far exceed our expectations in regard to participation and the quality of work,” said Jennings, “We had youth from 28 counties participate and each of them did an awesome job highlighting their projects through the essays, photos, TikTok, Barn Tours, and all of the other activities.”
Youth could compete in the virtual show in many ways. The categories included a barn tour, TikTok videos with their livestock, costume class, best show hair (the animal’s that is), we care, showmanship essays, and market classes. Judges from across the nation were “brought in” via Zoom to evaluate the classes.
The judges, who are also missing out on livestock shows, truly have a passion for the livestock industry and youth. It was wonderful to see them support youth by showing up virtually. Their time and support is so appreciated.
Special thanks should also be given to all those who, despite not having a physical show, still showed up to support youth in a financial way. Livestock projects are not cheap and youth rely on the generosity and support of buyers and sponsors to continue to be able to show. Financial support ensures that youth can show animals again.
A collective effort was put forth by so many to make the virtual show a success and support these livestock showmen. While youth were disappointed with the cancellation of traditional shows, they are resilient and rose to the challenge of a virtual show.
“This year was an interesting year for me. For the first time ever, we had a virtual livestock show due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said 12 year old Payton Williams. “The virtual show was cool, but the fellowship and camaraderie with my friends was greatly missed.”
Although aspects of a traditional show could not be replaced, in many ways the virtual show gave an opportunity to highlight the creative side of showman that is not as evident in traditional shows. Between catchy TikTok videos, inventive costumes, and barn tours complete with cartwheels, the creativity of youth shown bright!
In the showmanship essays, youth were able to express just how much showing means to them and what it has taught them. In an excerpt from Gideon Linton’s (13 years old) junior winning essay, he says:
One of the things that I have learned in showing is how to be patient with my animals, and that has helped me learn to be patient in life too. When I first started showing I would get really frustrated when my animal wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do in the show ring or when I was at home practicing. I would get mad and want to give up, but I finally figured out that kind of attitude wasn’t helping me work through the problems. It’s taken a lot of years, but I’ve learned how to be more patient with my animals and not to get frustrated so easily. When I stay calm and keep working through getting my goat to set up or teaching my pig to drive in the direction I want, I get better results. Sometimes, working through the problems takes a while. Sometimes, I think everything is going good, and then I’ll have a bad day in the show ring. I’ve discovered it’s better to learn from bad days, so I can improve on areas that went wrong. Not giving up and having perseverance is important to doing a good job!
Gideon’s brother, Isaac, took a more creative approach to his essay by imagining what he would tell his own kids one day about showing. Isaac, who is 15, ended up winning overall essay. Here’s an excerpt:
“Do you think all that work with showing was good for you?” asked Duke. “Showing helped me in more ways than I can say. I made new friends, I had lots of fun, and I learned so much that has helped me in life. Showing taught me to work hard at everything I put my mind to, care about people and animals, and to become more confident and responsible in all that I do,” Dad declared.
His essay ended with:
Even though this was a made-up story, all of it is facts I can tell my children about showing livestock one day. Personally, I don’t think I would be the same person I am today without the experiences showing has given me. I have gained more than I could ever imagine, and I am so thankful to everyone who introduced me to showing livestock and pushed me to succeed.
This pandemic may have prevented youth from being able to gather and show their animals in a physical ring but showing livestock—virtually or physically—teaches important lessons to showmen.
“The youth livestock program has long been known to have lasting impacts and I truly believe we will continue to see these young people become successful adults because of their efforts,” Jennings said.
While youth are learning to adjust to the changes around them and fight the disappointment that COVID-19 has caused, they are still able to look at the bright side. Ultimately, they are thankful for the support and kindness shown them through it all.
“I’m thankful that they [show coordinators] cared enough to make an opportunity available to us so we could still show our animals since the regular local show was cancelled. Through all this I learned there is more than one way to show livestock,” Isaac Linton expressed.