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Families drawn to disciplined lifestyle of beef cattle showing

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By Marty Finley

Joanele Cecil proudly watched as her sons, Sam and Clay, competed in a showmanship class for beef cattle at the Hardin County Community Fair and Horse Show Wednesday night, their hours of hard work culminating in a handful of performances.

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Her daughter, Katie, 8, wielded a small pink camera she used to flash toward her brothers after finishing her performance in the novice showmanship exhibition.

Rain forced cancellations and postponement of some events, but the Cecils and other families were unmoved as they wrangled their animals into stalls and prepared for the Youth Beef Cattle Show. Some of the classes focus on the efforts of the owner in controlling an animal and how the animal stands, while other classes judge the animal’s bone structure and attractiveness. Most competitors showed skill in handling the animal, though some shoved against their owners and proved obstinate, refusing at times to move on command.

Cecil, a Bardstown resident, said her children were hooked on raising cattle after taking in a rodeo in Nelson County.

“My dad has cows and everything,” she said. “I had some cows when I was growing up, so it was ideal I guess.” Cecil said her children spend anywhere from 25 to 30 hours a week working with the animals, rising for 5 a.m. feedings. Sam, 14, is naturally shy, she said, but stands in front of a crowd and competes because of his love for the animals. He went on to claim a first-place showmanship finish in the event his mother was watching.

Cecil said she was not aware of how much work went into feeding and tending to the animals until they dove into the business. Simply washing and grooming the animals, she said, is a laborious task.

“They need a beauty parlor for cows,” Katie chimed in beside her mother.

Shaune Williams has been heavily involved in cattle showing with her children for about 14 years. In addition to beef cattle, they work with horses and have a litany of other animals on their farm, including goats. They even administer shots to the animals.

“They’re fully involved,” she said of her two children, Briann, 16, and Orry, 18.

Briann said they were attracted to showing from the influence of an older sibling who previously competed. When asked what their favorite aspect of cattle showing is, Orry said meeting new people while Briann said working in the heat is the most challenging factor.

Instead of working outside jobs, the siblings fully dedicate their time to competition. Their earnings, Williams said, are their paycheck.

They show four days per week and traverse every county fair within a 100-mile distance of Elizabethtown. They also compete at the state fair, she said.

But while they take their craft seriously, Williams always has instructed her children to compete for the personal pride of showing their animal rather than money, acclaim or awards.

“If you’re out to win, you’re doing it for the wrong reason,” she said.

Tragedy nurtured this perspective after a fire claimed their barn and some of their animals in 2011, including Orry’s miniature horse, Lola.

“We still talk about Lola all the time,” she said.

Jacob Geer reviewed other competitors after his 14-year-old daughter, Paige, finished an exhibition. He showed as a child and passed it on to an older daughter.

“She followed in behind her,” he said of Paige. “I guess we’ve always been around it.”

Geer said he appreciates the craft because it breeds a strong work ethic at an early age. It also has built college funds for his children through their earnings and allowed his older daughter to purchase her own cars after she started driving.

“It teaches the kids a sense of responsibility and it helps to keep them out of trouble,” Geer said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.