Winning More Than Ribbons

Local students learn lifelong lessons through the livestock program

Rilyn Lauing, DeRidder Junior High, shows in the market hog class.
Rilyn Lauing, DeRidder Junior High, shows in the market hog class.

Story and photos by Danielle Tilley

Every year in rural communities across the country, there is a pageant. You won’t find sequins and long, flowing evening gowns on this stage—although the time spent coifing and perfecting a contestant’s appearance is about the same.

You will be hard-pressed to find a contestant with a can of hair spray or bottle of expensive perfume here. While the aroma is unique, a bottle of show sheen is the hair product of choice.

You will have to look elsewhere for sparkling crowns and questions about world peace because this is pageantry of the four-legged kind. This is a livestock show.

In January, the Beauregard Parish Livestock Club and LSU AgCenter Extension office, better known as the 4-H office, hold their annual spring show. Students from across the parish bring their chickens, ducks, rabbits, cows, sheep, swine and goats—known as exhibits—to compete for best in show.

Luke Wisby, East Beauregard High School, sets up a Braford Base Bull in the show ring.

Depending on the breed of animal, exhibits are judged on structure, size, muscle, finish and balance. Ask anyone in the barn what “showing” is really about, and they are quick to tell you that it has more to do with two-legged creatures on the other side of the halter than it does with the animals on display.

Just as in any competition, the hours of work and preparation that go into a quality show animal are countless. While students learn the finer points of meat production and breeding, they also learn lessons that far exceed the field of agriculture. Cassidy Sweat, a senior at East Beauregard High School, has been showing goats and beef cattle for more than nine years. She says she learned a key lesson during her years as a showman.

“It’s taught me a lot of responsibility,” she says. “There’s a lot of work that goes into it, waking up early to feed and work with your animal. It’s very rewarding when your hard work pays off, and you win at a show.”

Makenna Rutherford, a senior at South Beauregard High School, agrees. She says along with learning about how to be responsible and care for an animal, she’s learned a lot about herself. When her cow laid down in the ring during a big show, she was able to use what she had learned to manage the situation.

Arieona Daigle, home school, holds her Old English Game Bird.

“Showing teaches you how to be calm,” Makenna says. “If you stay cool and collected, your animal will, too. Building that relationship with an animal helps to manage your emotions and theirs. It’s really allowed me to grow as a person.”

Showing livestock isn’t all work and no play. Aubrie Hagan, sixth grader at East Beauregard High School, says there is plenty of fun to go around. Aubrie says her favorite thing about showing animals is the new friends she has made along the way. She says the hard work that goes into showing can be a challenge, but relationships forged make it worthwhile.

“Being in a show barn feels like being home,” Aubrie says. “My friends here feel like family.”

Lezlie Midkiff, president of the livestock club and mother of two former showmen, says her children’s involvement with the agricultural industry has had a long-lasting effect. Her daughter, Kristen, began showing sheep when she was 2 and is now pursuing a master’s degree in beef production at Mississippi State University.

Collin Nortman, East Beauregard High School, grooms a breeding goat.

“In terms of responsibility, there is a great difference between kids who are involved in the livestock program and their peers,” Lezlie says. “My kids woke up early almost every morning to bottle feed their calves and found a way to manage that with school and other activities. It gave them the incredible work ethic they have today.”

Mike Lavergne, Beauregard Parish’s extension agent, couldn’t agree more.

“Any program a student is involved in within the 4-H program is adding to their development,” Mike says. “In particular, the livestock program is teaching students responsibility, how to care for an animal, how to work with other people on a project and how to speak to adults. It’s about the animal, but more importantly, it’s about the kid.”