COLUMBIA — Neatly dressed children led small calves into a line as parents snapped photos. The children watched their furry charges carefully, holding the lead rope tightly in one hand and a show pole in the other, ready to nudge the calf back into place as a judge slowly moved up and down the line.
The Junior Bucket Calf Show, held Sunday afternoon at the Boone County Fairgrounds, encourages children's interest in farm animals by allowing them to show off the calves that they raised during the year. Many of the calves were either orphaned or rejected by their mothers, so the children took care of them instead, bottle-feeding each calf twice a day until it was ready to eat grain.
This year's competition featured 17 competitors, with children ages 3 to 11.
Justin Eddy, 6, waited in front of the gate before the participants were allowed into the ring. Even though this was his first calf show, Justin firmly declared that he was not nervous as he patted his black and white calf named Mater.
"You lead him around and itch his belly," Justin said.
Justin had a lot of work to do before the show. Mater had a bath, and then was dried off with a large blow drier. Justin and his parents also had to brush the four-and-a-half month old crossbred calf, fluffing up his fur and shaving the white hair on his face. Justin carried a wide scotch comb in his back pocket to straighten Mater's fur in the ring.
Justin recently sold Mater to his grandmother.
Lynsie Curtis, 7, has been participating in calf shows for three years. Her calf this year is a 2-month-old brown and white calf named Mac, "like a Big Mac," her father, J.T. Curtis, explained.
Lynsie feeds Mac twice a day, with a scoop of feed containing corn, oats, animal fats and soybeans, along with some hay.
Lynsie shrugged off any nervousness about the show as she tapped the ground with her purple show pole.
"You just stop him and then you set him up," Lynsie said.
Children were instructed to lead their calves into the arena one-by-one as the announcer read their names and what they liked or didn't like about raising the cattle. A judge ambled down the line, as some calves fidgeted and others laid down. The children tried to keep them in line, sometimes with the assistance of several adults.
"In this scenario, it's about allowing the kid to come away with a positive image," Chuck Miller said.
Miller, a National FFA Organization* adviser for Columbia Public Schools, has been working at the Boone County Fair for 18 years and was happy to finally see his children participate. Abby, 6, and Ethan, 3, each led a calf in the show. This was Abby's third year competing.
"The judge is probably asking them some questions about the calf, giving some advice, smiling, and making sure it's a positive thing," Miller said.
Each child was given a bucket full of hay and a prize for participating.