Show day at the Pierce County Fair in Nebraska starts early and goes fast.
I arrived around 9 in the morning, but Emily Lambrecht had already spent an hour and a half in the wash stalls, scrubbing and shampooing her calves so they would sparkle in the show barn.
This was showtime. The 17-year-old 4-H and FFA exhibitor spent months working up to this one day.
There was the time spent selecting show calves from the family herd, then catching and taming those calves so they would walk obediently with a rope halter, like a dog on a leash. Once they’re used to a halter, the calves need to know how to stand square for the livestock judge to scrutinize their genetically-derived attributes.
The purple and blue ribbons given to the county fair winners are nice rewards, but Lambrecht doesn’t just show animals at the fair to chase garlands. She also does it for the connection she feels both with her cows and also the other competitors.
“I just like running into people with my animals,” she said. “We both know how much time and work goes into these animals and that we both love it no matter what happens. Everyone wants purples, but it doesn’t matter. It should be between you and your animal. If you love it, it should be between you and your animals.”
At the fair, Lambrecht can bond with other farm kids over their days spent in the farm yard coaxing their calves to take orders. But she is also aware that there aren’t many people her age who have that kind of hands-on experience with the animals that may eventually end up on their plate.
“I was trying to get a friend out (to the farm) and he says ‘I‘m not a country kid,’” Lambrecht said.
She told him, “That’s not the point. I want to show you a cow. You’ve never touched a cow. You have no idea what it’s like. People have the wrong perception of what people do on the farm. It would be nice to show them sometime.”
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