This article originally appeared on TheLand.com.au
It’s 3.30am and my father has just burst through my bedroom door.
“We’re leaving in half an hour; get some breakfast and meet me down at the yards,” he says.
It was the same every Saturday or Sunday at this time of year. Like most teenagers, I wasn’t usually one to bounce out of bed at that hour but there was a certain level of excitement for the day ahead.
Inside the truck were a couple of Brahman bulls and heifers tied up beside a pair of steers, usually either bright coloured or fluffy, all bound for a day of competition at a rural Queensland show.
We would drive out of our property at first light and return by nightfall chatting non-stop about the day’s events. Sometimes, if we were really lucky, we’d return home with a ribbon to add to our collection.
“I can’t believe how well-behaved that heifer was,” my brother would say.
“How good did my bull look out there, Dad!” was another comment.
That was only 10 years ago but today something has changed within the show ring.
Youth development has grown immensely within the beef industry and there are more cattle camps and junior shows than ever before.
But is our older generation letting them down with their quest to be the best and losing sight of the real meaning of showing?
What was once a fun day out to socialise and learn lifelong cattle and confidence skills has become more competitive than a poker game.
Suddenly we’ve lost the reality of the humorous catch phrase that “you don’t show cattle to make money” and are now playing for sheep stations.
I wasn’t a multi-award winner or a grand champion judge but showing held a much deeper purpose for me.
I grew up on a 1618 hectare (4000 acre) cattle property in the North Burnett region of Queensland but despite my significant backyard and generational attachment to agriculture I was petrified of cattle.
I’d help out with cattle work, but stick close to the rail or always shotgun the job on a crush gate over one in the forcing yard.
That all changed when my mother and I purchased a Belgian Blue cross weaner from the local cattle sale.
The steer, known as Harold, wasn’t a world beater in the carcase stakes in his early days but he was gentle, kind and understanding. He not only turned heads for his colour in a ring full of fluffy Limousins and Charolais, but he helped me to understand the inner workings of cattle.
Our animals are more than just four legged beasts and showing teaches people that message.
During the Highland judging at the Royal Canberra Show the whole crowd had beaming smiles across their faces when Victorian teenager Will Pierce accomplished his dream of parading a beast.
The eighteen-year-old from Melbourne, who was born with a rare genetic disorder known as SCN2A, had always been fascinated with cattle and was calmed by their presence.
He ended up claiming the breed’s supreme exhibit title but was a winner before he even entered the ring. It didn’t matter what the judge decided, he was proud of himself and his heifer.
Entering a show ring was a privilege to him, not a right. But we seem to have forgotten that.
Statements like “I can’t believe how good that heifer looked out there” have been replaced by “I’m not coming back to this show because I can’t stand that judge”.
During this uncertain time, when regular showing appearances have been cancelled, I hope we can learn to appreciate the true meaning of these outings.
The prize money and ribbons don’t actually define the true value of a showing appearance.
It’s your chance to showcase your business and your product to a wider audience.
It should mean so much more to gain the appreciation of the crowd outside the ring; the people who could be future seedstock clientele, have industry connections or are simply dreaming of one day standing in your shoes.
When the show season makes a return and if you are fortunate to be standing on a top podium place don’t forget to look back at those behind you and notice the smiles on peoples’ faces.
One of them might be a farmer’s daughter whose just proud of herself for holding onto an animal or a city kid who can’t believe how lucky they are to spend their weekends doing what they love.
As much as they would have loved a ribbon to justify their 3.30am wake up call, their biggest reward is the pride that lies within.