Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Leading the Way: 5 life skills learned in the show ring

Katie Coyne for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 November 2018
Leading the way

Video games, participation ribbons and obscene amounts of time spent on social media don’t develop work ethic, instill values or build self-esteem. But showing cattle can do all that and more to prepare adolescents and teens for the world ahead.

Hard work, responsibility, poise, presence and effective communication are preferred skills for just about any job, whether in the dairy industry or another field. But what sets dairy youth apart from their non-ag peers are the experiences many have had since a young age building those proficiencies.



So set down the cellphone and pick up a halter. After all, when our kids are grown, they will remember the time they earned that first trophy with their project heifer, but they won’t recall a great game of Fortnite.

Hard work and responsibility

At the first livestock camp I planned, we made T-shirts, and on the back of the shirt was the saying, “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.” This is true in anything we do but, in order to succeed at exhibiting cattle, hard work is vital to success.

I recall talking once with a leader in our agriculture community, and he stated he’d heard many parents were doing the work for their 4-H project members, and that was why those youth were the most successful. My reply to him was: If parents were doing the work, the youth would not be successful. There is no way to know your heifer, learn to be one in the show ring with her and to get her to respond to you without putting the time in.

Responsibility is another life skill learned through showing. If you take on the task of feeding, watering, washing, clipping and preparing your calf, the outcome of your work will be all yours. I recently worked with a young lady whose calf lived quite a distance from her.

The calf had a bad case of ringworm and, in order to get it to the next show, which was going to be important to her long-term goal, this calf needed some extra care the farm owner did not have time to give. I encouraged her to make a make-shift pen at her house and get the calf under her own care.


She wasn’t extremely knowledgeable about caring for a high-caliber calf, but she was determined. She connected with me nearly every day and spent hours with the calf. I often told her if she had done her best from start to finish, whatever happened in the ring would be satisfying, as she had given the project her all.

Poise and presence

There is no substitute for these two skills. When a showman enters a ring standing up straight at an efficient pace with a look of confidence, it is hard for a judge to not notice them. At the recent showmanship contest at the World Dairy Expo, a top young exhibitor was invited back to the finals of her age division. As the finals went on, she was not sorted to the top of the class. She maintained the confidence she first entered the ring with as more and more youth were pulled into line ahead of her. She knew she had prepared, and she had been taught to be poised at all times in the ring. Finally, the judge pulled her in, placed her near the top of the class and cited her poise and perseverance throughout the long class.

How to communicate confidently

This could be the most important life skill learned when exhibiting a dairy project animal. Whether you are talking to a person from the city in the barns at a fair, teaching younger members in your club the correct way to care for your animal or answering that judge’s question, confident communication is an essential skill.

As more and more people are generations away from rural life and the farm, it is vital to know how to talk with the general public at the fair. Many herdsmanship score cards even include a section on how well the exhibitors answer questions. In your 4-H or FFA organization, practice what questions may arise and be ready to answer with confidence in a nonconfrontational manner.

When answering a judge’s question in the ring, stop working with your animal, look the judge in the eye, and answer honestly. If you don’t know the answer to the question, tell the judge that. Most times, a judge will appreciate your honesty and ask another question you will answer by looking them in the eye and speaking clearly.


Apply these skills to real life

Each of these skills are something you will use over and over as you move on from showing and into the real world, whether it includes exhibiting cattle or not. I recently visited a company made up of a strong team of 20 skilled people. Everyone had an important task to complete in a timely and precise manner. Each person on the team was dedicated to their task.

But there were four people who always went above and beyond. When their specific role was complete, they looked for something else to do. Whatever they started, they finished before they went home for the day. If a client needed extra attention, one of these four people would step up and complete that task. What was the difference in these four?

They were from a farm background, while the other members of the team weren’t. They knew long days of chores, milking, harvesting and hard work, and that knowledge carried over into their new roles. They were rewarded for the outstanding work ethic they had developed on a farm.

When interviewing for a job or a scholarship, giving a presentation or any other time, effective, poised and confident communication is necessary; honing your skills in these areas in the show ring will be an asset. Look at people around you who are successful in their professions. The key to their success is effective communication, whether it is one-on-one or to a large group of people.

I know a young person who started her career in the show ring by sitting down on the bleachers to watch and learn; she had no idea people were going to be watching her. As she went through her 4-H and FFA years, she grew confident as she talked to judges and spoke to people at the fair.

She went on to win speaking contests at many levels and today has a very successful career where she is required to speak to large audiences. Be a confident showman, and the rest will follow.

Where do you ‘grow’ from here?

As we wrap up 2018 and look to a new year, set a few goals. I would encourage you to take opportunities as they come along. Join a quiz bowl team, raise funds and attend a national showmanship contest, be more active in your 4-H or FFA organization; the possibilities are endless.

Each new opportunity will introduce you to someone new, take you to a place you’ve never been before and open new doors to success, far beyond what you will ever achieve on Instagram.  end mark

Katie Coyne