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In animals we trust

Craig J. Louder for Progressive Forage Published on 08 September 2021

Every year we see the pictures at the end of summer: kids hugging a 4-H or FFA project animal with tears streaming down their cheeks.

We read the captions on social media of how those outside of agriculture don’t understand. They have their pets that they treat like children, but they can’t comprehend how our children could grow so attached to a walking steak. We post how these kids have spent hours feeding and watering these animals, cleaning out pens and training them to lead and set up properly to be shown at the county fair. As parents, we hope these kids are learning responsibility, both for taking care of a living creature and fiscal responsibility that will come with the check that comes at the end of the project. All summer long, we worry if our kids are doing enough so the animal will be big enough and calm enough to take to the show.

Experiencing fair week as a parent for the first time offered a new perspective. We often talk of how our kids will do at the fair showing their animals, but this year I thought of the trust that we as parents must have in the animals that are going into the ring with our kids. For many of these animals, the trip to the fair is the first (and only) show they will be in. These animals that are biologically programmed to flee from uncomfortable situations must now remain calm in a new environment. As a veterinarian, I regularly see what happens to animals that are put into uncomfortable situations. I have experienced the power that these animals possess as instincts kick in from what they perceive as a threat to their life. If a 1,400-pound steer or a 300-pound hog decides they don’t like what’s happening, there is nothing that a 70-pound kid is going to do to stop them. Yet remarkably, the majority of these animals remain calm, and the rodeo is reserved for another time at the county fair.

As I watched the shows at our local county fair this week, I noticed moms and dads steadying both child and animal as they prepared to go into the show ring. Parents were calming kids as kids calmed the nerves of heifers, lambs, steers and hogs by scratching them behind the ears or along the back. Our kids had taken care of these animals for the past year, and as we sent both into the show ring, we as parents hope that both kid and animal will do well.

The tears flowed from my daughter as she tied her steer back up after the sale, and as we prepared to leave the barn on Saturday night. Thinking of what all these animals had done for our kids, I may have wiped a tear from my own eye, thankful for the animals that we as parents put our trust in to teach our kids these valuable lessons.  end mark

PHOTO: Cora Louder showing her steer, Hershey Syrup, at the Jerome County Fair. Photo by Erica Louder.