Audio and Words by Austin Garner
The ring is lined all the way around with people, every one of them waiting in quiet anticipation. And on the outskirts: It’s standing-room only. The announcer takes a deep breath, turns on the microphone and says, “Class One, please report to the ring. Bring your Class One angus heifers to the ring.”
This is the scene at the Tipton, Iowa, fairgrounds on a chilly March weekend. Livestock trailers and Carhartt jackets are everywhere. People move from the barns to the ring to the wash rack and back again — all with their prized show cattle in tow. These definitely aren’t the cattle you might see on the side of the road. These bovine beauties are colorful, clean and completely complacent — preferring to stand still and get an occasional head scratch instead of wandering through the fairgrounds.
Showing cattle isn’t an ordinary competition. There are no points to gain or goals to score. Exhibitors enter the ring trying to impress the judge, who looks over the cattle and ranks them. The cattle are judged by a variety of things including bone structure, body thickness and how smoothly they walk about the ring.
The top two from classes that have between three to ten cattle each advance to the breed championship where the judge picks the first and second place winner for each breed. The champions represent their respective breeds in the Grand Championship at the end of the show, where the judge picks their favorite to take home the win.
Chad Kreel, a miniature hereford breeder at LiL KaF Ranch in Mechanicsville, Iowa, chuckled when asked about how the animals were treated and how he could convince his heifers to stand still for so long. “I tell you what, these cattle are babied. They are treated with so much respect,” Kreel says.
That respect begins long before the day of the show. The bond between the animal and its exhibitor starts in the barns at home. And it’s forged stronger with the numerous hours spent together. “It’s not all glitz and glamour all the time,” Kreel says. “There’s sweat equity that you have to put into it. You have to put in the effort and the time to make this happen and build on this.”
The hard work doesn’t go unnoticed for the Kreels. After the early morning walks and the late night show practices in their yard at home, they’ve become a leader in their breed in Iowa. “We run the national show circuit and we’ve done quite well,” Kreel says. “We’ve hit Overall Grand Champion National Bull down in Louisville and my son got Grand Champion National Bull out in Denver.”
But the championships aren’t what generates the most pride.
“I guess my proudest moment would be spending time with my family. It’s like I tell the boys, this won’t happen all the time,” Kreel says. “You might have a good run this year and the next year you might not, so those are some of my proudest moments.”
The fitting clinics, the trailer and cattle preparation, the family time — it’s what’s treasured most of all. And it strengthens the bond between exhibitors and their animals enough to reduce even the toughest farmer’s son to tears as he loads the animal he’s spent countless hours raising onto the trailer for the final time at the end of the show season, sending it to market.
Kreel knows just how lucky his family is to be able to chase this passion all around the country and wants everyone to be able to experience showing cattle. “I tell my boys that they’re blessed they have the opportunity to do this. There are kids that don’t,” Kreel says. “So I think having people get ahold of somebody and get out there and see what it’s all about — it’s more than just showing cattle. It’s about building those relationships. Whether it’s with family or friends, it’s something that’s lifelong.”
There’s no job application to show cattle. Just about anybody can get involved. However, be prepared for the early morning chores, for the muddy boots and wet jeans after an hour at the wash rack. Be prepared for the steer or heifer to fight back every step of the way — right up until they choose not to anymore. The payoff? The judge’s look of approval. Smiles, tears and memories that last a lifetime. It’s worth it.