Showing Steers Is a Family Affair

7/19/2014 7:00 AM
By Katelyn Callahan Special to Lancaster Farming

Eleven-year-old Reilly Hess of Manheim, Pa., can be seen sporting her trademark pink cowgirl boots whether judging a class of steer with the Lancaster County 4-H livestock judging team or showing a prize-winning steer. She has honed her skills and is quite accomplished in the show ring. Recently, she won several ribbons at the southeast regional livestock judging contest at the Mason-Dixon Fair in York County, Pa., as well as the high individual for beef judging in the junior division at the Delaware Valley competition.

Showing in the Hess family is multigenerational. Reilly comes from a long line of showmen beginning with her great-grandfather, also a 4-H’er. Both her parents were in FFA. Her dad also participated in 4-H and livestock judging. Now, Reilly and her older brother are continuing the tradition.

This is Reilly’s fourth year showing beef with the Red Rose 4-H Beef Club. She will be showing <\n>Napoleon, her steer, at the Manheim Farm Show this October. She isn’t the only one in her family getting ready for the fair; 14-year-old brother Alec is also grooming his steer, Chance, into a potential future champion.

The siblings purchased their steers at a Keystone International Livestock Exposition auction.

“Most of the time we agree on who gets what steer; I chose the smaller one for my project animal this year because he was cuter,” Reilly said.

At the time of purchase, her Angus-Shorthorn crossbred steer was five months old and weighed 383 pounds. He’s expected to finish at 1,200 (pounds) rather than 1,300 pounds because of his petite frame.

“Although shorter, he’s easier to see over to look at the judges when I am showing,” Reilly said.

To give a glimpse into what it takes to make a showring winner, here is a look at a day in the life of the young Hess. She and her brother wake early every morning to keep on a consistent feeding schedule; the steers eat at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. It’s not all about packing on the pounds, but about keeping the animal in shape. The siblings walk their steers several times weekly, but most of time they exercise themselves running around their pen. Reilly spends lots of time with Napoleon so they will both be calm when it’s show time. Preparation for the fair includes washing, clipping and making the steer’s hair stand erect. In the show ring, contestants must “square up” their animals, so it is important to practice this beforehand and often.

“In order to square up the steer, you use a show stick and push in between the hoof to move backwards and pull the dewclaw frontward to go forward; you continue this until the steer is square,’ ” Reilly said. “You must also train him to set his feet by himself. ... The most challenging part of training is to teach the steer to go into the blocking chute easily and not to be scared when you turn on the clippers.”

After 12 months of preparation it’s time to see the fruits of the year’s labor, often showcased at the local fair. Reilly has seen her hard work pay off in the show ring. In the past, she has won heavyweight champion and first place in her showmanship class.

“I love working with animals, and it’s fun to show off the animal I have raised,” she said.

The fair also gives showmen the opportunity to sell their project at auction. Reilly plans to sell Napoleon at the Manheim Farm Show.

No one ever knows what will happen in the show ring. On one occasion, Reilly remembers her steer jumping on top of the steer in front of him three times.

“I had to turn him to get him to stop jumping. I have learned from working with animals (that) you have to stay calm around them, because if you’re not, the animal you’re working with will not be either,” she said.

Reilly plans to continue showing steers and would like to add showing swine to her repertoire.

“Through 4-H, I have opportunities to interact with other people who like animals as much as I do,” she said.

A fair gives participants the chance to display their efforts and expose people to agriculture, so next time you walk through an animal barn at the fair, take a look at the many projects exhibited there. It takes tons of hard work and perspiration to get those animals in top condition.

As for Reilly, she plans to have some fun at the fair too.

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