Log onto Facebook these days, and you may find your feed full of livestock for sale. That’s because the 232 livestock projects slotted to exhibit at the Leon County Youth Livestock Show later this month are now without a show, and as a result are without an auction. While the board had hoped to move forward with the show, they made the announcement last week that holding the event would not be viable, citing Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-14 as part of their final decision.
“The health, safety, welfare and security of our exhibitors and attendees are a top priority of our board of directors,” LCYLS President Tommy Neyland wrote in a letter to exhibitors and supporters. “In an effort to comply with [Order GA-14], it is with a very heavy heart that we must announce the 2020 LCYLS must be canceled.”
Several exhibitors, including freshmen Raylie Ezell and Westyn Barger, were still reeling from the cancelation of the Houston Livestock Show last month. Raylie recently held a raffle to recoup some of the money she lost on the steer she was unable to sell at Houston. For Raylie, the hours and effort put in on her projects is harder than the financial aspect of the canceled shows.
“It’s very upsetting and devastating for me and my family,” Ezell said. “We have cried for two days straight because I have worked for a year on this animal and was looking forward to showing him.”
Exhibitors start preparing for county months ahead of time, spending hours grooming, exercising and grooming their animals. Many also show at practice shows and elsewhere to prepare for the big day, including sisters Evana and Millie Lane, who kept their lambs at the ag facility on the high school campus.
“I hate that we have to miss out on the county show,” Millie said. “Evana and I put in a lot of work going back and forth with small shows and big shows, and we didn’t get to show off the work we put in.”
“I’m upset because we worked hard on our animal and paid a lot of money,” she said. “It was all just for the show to be canceled.”
Most students work with their animals daily, if not twice a day, adding hours to busy days already packed with school, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs.
“I spend about two hours with my pig every day,” senior Andrea Daniel, who purchased her animal last November. “I spent time feeding her in the morning before school, and spent time exercising her in the evening and then feeding her again.”
For many exhibitors, the annual show is more than just their individual contest; it is a week-long opportunity to watch and connect with other exhibitors, with friends and family working together and connecting.
“The show being canceled is heart-breaking,” freshman Alexis Bell said. “I have spent my entire life at the show barns. This show is more than just a show to me – it is a remembrance of all the times I spent with my grandfathers there.”
The exhibitors have spent countless hours getting their animals ready, and while they were all hoping to earn a top spot, they say that mostly the lack of a show makes their year feel incomplete.
“I am sad that I don’t get to show my steer at county, but it’s more about the experience that comes from raising a steer” freshman Alison Bing said. “For me, it’s not about getting a banner or belt buckle, but the challenge that comes from showing steers.”
For competitors who have been showing for years, many since their third-grade year when they started 4-H, the annual event is also about spending time with friends from around the county who they don’t see regularly.
“County show is my favorite time of year,” senior Emma Reeder said. “It is where kids get rewarded for all the hours of hard work with their animals. It is also where a lot of new memories and friendships are made.”
And that is perhaps what makes the cancellation of this show sting so much. While exhibitors understand the need to cancel, the situation hurts on more than one level. Freshman Abby Brewer, who planned to show her steer, acknowledges the show was about both business and pleasure.
“I’m going to miss one of the best times of the year for me and my friends,” Brewer said. “We’ve all put so much work into these livestock projects, and it feels like it’s going down the drain.”
Some of the projects have been in the works for as long as a year. Market animals, especially, are timed to be ready to sell at showtime, so there is no saving them for another year or another show.
“We’ve all worked really hard on our project and spent a lot of time, money, and effort on these projects, and it’s basically all for nothing,” sophomore Reese Boyd, who planned to show halter heifers, said. “I’m lucky because I have heifers so it doesn’t affect me as much, but the market animals, on the other hand, are suffering from this.”
For seniors, the hurt is especially deep. They are already missing out on their final years in other spring activities, and their proms, graduations and other senior activities are in jeopardy, as well. Skylar Randle, who is graduating a year early, said she was” really looking forward to doing what I love most one more time.” Other seniors agreed.
“It was the last year I could do this, and it was taken away from me,” Daniel said. “It was the last year that I could share this experience with my sister, as well.”
The LCYLS board is working on a recovery plan that will allow exhibitors to showcase and possibly sell one of their projects; an announcement of what this will be is expected soon. While this may not result in monetary levels that the annual auction did, the board hopes to create a positive and memorable experience.
“Around half a million goes out to the kids every year from buyers as well as add-ons,” County Extension Agent Cassie Ferguson said. “Even though the county show has been canceled, these youths have gained so much from their livestock experience. They have worked countless hours with their livestock projects and have made so many memories with their friends, families, ag teachers and county agents in the barn and at jackpots. They will hold the lessons and memories dear even more for years to come.”
Typically, exhibitors use the money earned on their sales to fund their projects for the following year, as well as to save for college.
“I depend on showing and making sale to be able to purchase livestock, feed, supplements and tack for the next year,” Bell said. “I don’t know what I am going to do now; missing out on county puts my next year of showing in jeopardy.”