4-H'ers prepare for summer of livestock showing

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The Champaign County 4-H Livestock Show is still a month away, but 4-H'ers in the Mahomet area are already preparing to exhibit cattle, sheep and swine.

Families who show livestock say that the experience teaches kids responsibility, leadership and time-management skills. In many cases, they're also carrying on a long tradition begun by their own parents, grandparents and—in some cases—great-grandparents.

This week the Citizen visited three local 4-H families to find out how they're preparing for a summer of showmanship. The Mitchell sisters are just starting out in the world of dairy cattle. The Cender siblings, Maddie and Gavin, are preparing their beef cattle for local fairs. And Maddie Fugate is hoping for another successful summer alongside her pigs on the national stage.



At first glance, the quiet Mahomet subdivision where the Mitchell family lives might not seem like a place where daughters Madison, 12, and Natalie, 9, could care for dairy cattle.

And it isn't.

The girls travel to their great-uncle's farm in Thomasboro to work with their cows. The distance between their home and the farm sometimes makes things difficult for the family, but the Mitchells say it's all worth it in order to help Madison and Natalie carry on the family legacy.

“It's been a family tradition for many, many years,” mom Michelle Mitchell said. Her grandfather Edwin Busboom and uncle Edgar Busboom were longtime dairy farmers in Champaign County. The girls' father, Cory Mitchell, is also a former 4-H'er who showed beef cattle.

“It's special to be part of something that they were part of too,” Madison said.

This is the girls' first year in 4-H, though Madison showed a heifer named Meg at last year's Champaign County Fair. This year she'll show a red-and-white Holstein yearling she's named “Lucky.” She and her sister just begun working with the heifers they'll show for 4-H this year.

“You have to get to know them beforehand,” Madison said. In her first year of showing, she learned the basics of dairy cattle care—feeding, watering and grooming—and picked up some pointers on dairy showmanship from her extended family.

On the day of the show “we wash them with special soap and brush them,” she said. “We clip them before they go. Then we put on a leather halter.”

Then they lead their cow in front of the judges, careful to show off the animal's best features. Judges consider a number of factors, scrutinizing everything from a dairy cow's size to the curvature of its spine.

Madison's experience last year inspired her younger sister to give livestock showing a try this summer.

“Last year I went [to the fair] and it kind of looked fun to me,” Natalie said.

She said that she's a little nervous about her first year—she'll be showing a black-and-white Holstein she hasn't named yet—but that seeing her sister do the same thing has made her more confident.

Carrying on the family tradition is important for the Mitchell sisters. Their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents all show dairy cattle, which makes the competition not only an opportunity for networking in the agricultural community, but also a family reunion of sorts.

“Before we showed we went and watched our cousins do it,” Madison said. “It really builds your confidence to see what's going on.”

The Mitchell sisters are involved in an array of other activities, from summer sports to the school band. But they say that preparing livestock for judging teaches kids lessons in commitment.

“You have to have a lot of responsibility,” Madison said.



Siblings Maddie and Gavin Cender have been showing beef cattle for nearly seven years, and they're so comfortable around them that one might think they've been that way their entire lives.

But it wasn't always that way.

“I used to hate cattle,” Maddie Cender joked. “We were city people.”

They were introduced the world of livestock when their mom, Ann, married Mahomet cattle breeder Luke Turner. They soon realized it was something they enjoyed and joined the local 4-H club. “We kind of jumped on it,” Gavin said.

Gavin now shows shorthorns, and his sister shows Angus. They show from 10 to 14 cattle each year.

With that many animals to care for, preparing for a show can be a huge task.

“When you have 14 cattle, it's kind of hard,” Gavin said. On the morning of a show, the siblings get up before the sun and start washing and brushing their animals.

But it's something they're used to, as they balance chores, school and sports.

“Sometimes I have to wake up really early in the morning to feed my cattle,” Gavin said.

The experience has also taught them financial skills.

“We earn money for selling steers and the premiums we win, and we put that toward our college,” Maddie said.

For Maddie, the best part of showing cattle is getting to meet new people and reunite with old friends she's met at livestock shows. She calls livestock showing “chores and fun combined.”

The Cenders also enjoy seeing all their hard work come to fruition each year.

“I think the most rewarding thing for me is the feeling you get when you win and the judge shakes your hand,” Gavin said.

His sister agreed. “It's the feeling you get at the end of the day,” she said.

Both say it's been a learning experience.

“It seems like every year we get better and better cattle,” Gavin said. “Not because we buy them better, but because Maddie and I have learned so much.”




Maddie Fugate, 12, has been showing swine for as long as she can remember, starting when she was just 3 years old. And she hasn't stopped since.

She shows Hampshires, which are, as she puts it, “pigs that kind of look like an Oreo.” Her parents, Eric and Julie Fugate, both grew up competing in livestock shows and now breed show pigs.

This week she's showing two of her pigs at the National Junior Swine Association competition in Louisville, Ky. It's a competition that's much different from the 4-H fair in Champaign County, where there are only a few families that raise swine.

But Maddie is used to that kind of pressure. Her bedroom is filled with the banners, belt buckles and ribbons that she's won over the years. She's also won a number of college scholarships.

She said that she usually spends two hours or so working with her pigs each day, and travels to shows almost every weekend between May and October.

“It's hard but it's fun,” she said. “I've learned a lot of leadership skills.”

It's also taught her some money-management lessons that most kids don't learn until they're much older. She's had a checkbook since she was six, and she pays for her own entrance fees.

“She's really learned the value of money,” her mom, Julie Fugate, said.

She's also learned a lot about the business of raising swine.

Pigs, Maddie said, “are kind of like humans—they have personalities.”

They also have human-like appetites.

“They're really friendly and they love marshmallows,” she said. She uses marshmallows to train her show pigs to walk and to keep their heads up.

Compared with cows, the career of a show pig is fairly short: from about age 6 months to 8 months. Since Maddie shows year-round, she's often working with several pigs at once. The pigs she plans to enter in the 4-H fair at the end of July are just starting to get ready for their big debut.

Maddie wasn't eligible to join 4-H until she was 8—five years after she first started showing pigs. Small local competitions are a far cry from the larger shows that Maddie attends, but she said it's nice to have the chance to interact with other local students who have the same interests.

“It's just a lot of fun,” she said.




Categories (2):News, People
Tags (2):livestock, 4-H


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