8/17/2013 7:00 AM
By Shannon Sollinger Virginia Correspondent
CLEAR BROOK, Va. — When the Frederick County, Va., 4-H Livestock Club sets out to name a grand champion showman, it’s a real challenge.
Three senior and three junior champions from earlier beef, sheep and swine showmanship rings came back for a round-robin test on Aug. 2 to decide who was really the best showman at the Frederick County Fair.
Not only did the competitors handle animals out of their specialty, but they also had to show off animals they met for the first time the moment they walked into the ring.
“These guys will start off with a clean slate,” said Kyley Clevenger, club leader. “They’ve never used these animals.”
Farmers from all over the county lent the three cattle, three sheep and three hogs for the round robin, while other 4-H’ers were busy getting the animals bathed and ready to show off.
An animal of each species was on standby “in case there are issues with one of those in the ring.” Clevenger said. “We pick the ones that will be best behaved, especially with the kids coming from different species.”
Each animal comes with its own set of quirks and characteristics, Clevenger said, “so their job is to figure that out when they get into the ring, do a quick glance over, groom really quickly. They have to have background knowledge of what they are showing.”
Judge Jacob Gilley was looking for real stockman’s knowledge of the industry, above and beyond handling skills.
“Their answering industry-related questions in the ring is a vital part of a true stockman. That’s what made the decision today,” Gilley said.
Gilley, who grew up in Madison, Va., and recently took a job with CFC Farm and Home Center in Marshall, Va., grew up showing heifers, steers and pigs in 4-H. He graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in animal science and ag business and added a master’s in ag education.
In the ring, he said he looks for attention to detail, attention to the judge and how well each competitor showcases an animal’s best qualities. He also wanted to see sportsmanship and praised the six Frederick County 4-Hers for helping each other out in the ring; each frequently giving a stubborn animal a poke in the behind to get it moving for his or her rival for the championship.
He found his junior winner in George Sfarnas, 13, who came into the ring as the pig showmanship champion.
Gilley described George as very intense, with very good attention to detail, especially with his pig. Gilley guessed that the young man came from the pig ring.
“It seemed like he was slightly bent over when showing the steer. You carry that over from the pigs,” Gilley said.
George’s steer was “difficult to keep moving,” he admitted. “I don’t like showing steers much, but it was alright.”
His job as a young stockman was to evaluate the challenges facing the swine industry, and his answer to Gilley — animal welfare, relating to the public’s image of keeping animals in confined spaces, the use of gestation crates — set him apart. The solution to this public perception, George said, is to educate the public.
Two Boden boys — Chet, 10, and Caleb, 13 — were in the junior ring where the prize went to George Sfarnas.
Meanwhile Cody Boden, 16, went to the head of the class in the senior championship, showing against Courtney Walls and Ashten Sfarnas, George’s cousin. He’s won the junior round-robin several times and has made it to the senior ring the last two years, but hadn’t won the top prize.
All the animals were “pretty easy to work with,” he said, but, “the sheep really didn’t want to work.”
For his question from Gilley, Cody Boden addressed how to breed the purebred Angus heifer, one of three cattle in the ring.
“I told him I would use a Hereford bull to get more hybrid vigor. You could have good commercial females coming out of that to produce more cows, and also have really good growth and they’ll be really good carcass cattle in the end.”
The Boden brothers went home with more than showmanship ribbons. Earlier in the day, Cody Boden captured supreme heifer, while Chet won champion goat and Caleb won champion steer and champion lamb.
Next year, the Showmanship Round Robin will be even more fun, Clevenger said. The Frederick County 4-H Livestock Club added classes for goats this year. Next year, the championship ring will include goats.