In the summer of 2019, a group of youth and their parents gathered in northwest North Carolina for their annual dairy success camp. Little did they know that through strong leadership and the willingness to learn, they would become an unstoppable group of showmanship mentors and friendly competitors with everyone they meet in a show ring.
There is no doubt that the first element for success is to have a support person – a parent, a leader or a mentor. It just so happens that this group in North Carolina has all of those. The parents – who may or may not have ever shown cattle – bring comfy chairs, a table full of food and a good cup of coffee to share. They will spend every weekend in the fall driving cattle and kids to shows and they have built a little community of cow show friends. What these adults don’t do is the work for the youth. The youth wash their own cattle, clip their own cattle, break them to lead, select sires for next year’s show calves and more.
The North Carolina youth have a leader in Aaron Ray Tompkins who works as an extension specialist and has several key contacts in the registered cattle business. Aaron Ray helps youth purchase reasonably priced cattle to show and has been a huge supporter of helping youth learn about showing, judging, quiz bowl and more. This past summer several youth traveled to the National Holstein Convention and brought home hardware from several contests on their first trip to this event.
Hannah Loftin has mentored youth in showing, fitting and dairy judging. She has grabbed more than one bystander at a show and asked them to show one of her animals, leading to youth joining the project and going on to win their own awards. As a matter of fact, her willingness to teach, and to learn, has upped the competitive spirit in the state, and now many youth from North Carolina are following in her footsteps and exhibiting as high as the national show level.
Josie Calhoun is a soft-spoken young lady who shared her love of showing cattle with her friend Laura Robson. What has happened since is a youth show ring success story, which shows the economic impact that encouraging youth from non-traditional dairy backgrounds can have for registered cattle breeders. Josie and Laura have purchased numerous animals to show at local and national levels. They also each have younger brothers who have caught show fever, meaning that these two families are investing into every aspect of the dairy show industry. Very competitive and the same age, Josie, Laura and their brothers, Clint and Easton, will go back and forth with wins in showmanship.
A special heifer that the Calhouns owned was sold to Vierra Dairy in California and has become a household name. Rivendale VIP Eloise was named the Grand Champion at the 2022 All-American Jersey Show. Josie and Easton are very proud of their part of Eloise’s story, purchasing her for $400 back when she was a baby and selling her later to Vierra.
While adult support is important, watching the youth in North Carolina compete against each other is an example that every person who competes at any level should observe. There is no doubt that these youth want to win – they work an unbelievable number of hours to break animals to lead, monitor feed and hone their fitting skills. But, at the end of the day, they support each other and cheer each other on.
Kassidy Gantos, Makayla Hoell and Shylee Brooks are three very good friends whose learning curve has been steep. None of the three girls’ parents showed dairy cattle. They each have made their way to the show ring by different paths and now enjoy loads of success at the local and state level. They have invested in some heifers and work hard to make it to shows throughout the South through all kinds of weather – even hurricanes. Between the three of them, they won over 20 showmanship competitions in 2022 alone. Their goal to exhibit at a national show is coming true step by step.
Lucy Mehaffey and her siblings, Calloway, Maggie and Thatcher, have become addicted to showing Brown Swiss and Guernsey cattle thanks to some encouraging words from a neighbor several years ago. After purchasing their own farm in 2019, the family has purchased cattle from several states and done very well. Lucy is in a very talented age division of showmen yet has managed to collect wins this year as the youngest in the group. She also won the junior division of the state 4-H judging contest her first time out. Calloway and Maggie are twins who trade wins in their age division, while their brother, Thatcher, partnered with his Guernsey heifer at the state fair and came home with the blue in showmanship.
A culmination of the show season for North Carolina dairy youth took place in December 2022, as youth were recognized for their achievements. The inaugural year of the Showmaster Circuit program was a huge success as the North Carolina Dairy Youth Foundation implemented the program to recognize youth for their efforts with their dairy projects. Foundation volunteers planned a formal evening of dinner and awards, with youth from across the state heading home that evening with some coveted prizes for their efforts.
While the awards and blue ribbons are cherished, it’s the friendships and adventures that will stay with these youth forever. Unwittingly, North Carolina has become a leader in youth showmanship and camaraderie while showing – my guess is you’ll hear more from them in the future.