August 30, 2021 at 12:33 p.m.
“I was really surprised when I won,” Nickels said. “One of my strongest competitors was there, and I was very nervous and stressed that morning.”
The 20-year-old from Watertown has been showing cattle since she was 4 years old, starting at Dodge County Fair’s little britches show. Nickels’ showmanship abilities progressed dramatically.
“I went from being a very visibly tense showman to being more relaxed and comfortable with my animal,” Nickels said. “I got to where I looked smooth in the ring.”
Nickels won the supreme showmanship honor for the first time in 2019 with a Jersey winter yearling. In addition to two consecutive supreme showmanship wins, Nickels has also won her age division for showmanship five times at the state fair.
Nickels took first place in the 19-year-old showmanship class this year, beating out more than 20 exhibitors before entering the supreme showmanship class with the winners of each age division. Nickels said demonstrating knowledge of her animal’s shortcomings helped her stand out in the class.
“Confirmation wise, you have to own up to your animal’s faults and lead her out of that,” Nickels said. “When the judge asked me what my heifer’s faults were, I told her. Then she asked how I would fix those faults. I told her my heifer does not have the best feet and legs, so I wouldn’t switch her feet around during an actual show because that wouldn’t play to her strengths.”
During her reasons, the judge said Nickels was alert and serious but did not overshow her animal.
“My heifer cooperates really well,” Nickels said. “She’s an absolute sweetheart to work with and that helps a lot.”
Nickels cited overall cleanliness as another important factor and said she follows a strict show program at home. During show season, Nickels washes her animals every night and has been spending three hours per day with them since May.
“I put a lot of time into this,” she said. “I wash, lead and routinely clip for good hair growth. I also monitor their diet and clean their pen every night.”
Nickels’ favorite thing about showing cattle is the work that goes on behind the scenes.
“Anyone can take a halter and lead an animal in the ring,” she said. “It’s knowing how to do the work at home every single day that really makes a difference. It’s more rewarding to win with an animal you’ve put the hours in preparing instead of just handling the halter.”
Nickels is an experienced fitter who lent her clipping talents to other junior members at the state fair as she helped prepare their animals for the show.
“If you’re not able to clip the animal yourself, then it must be clipped by a family member or another junior member,” Nickels said.
Her sharp eye for cattle and expertise in the show ring combine to make Nickels a talented showman skilled in the presentation of her animals. Nickels began dairy judging as a kid – an activity she believes built her competence in the area of showing.
“Participating in judging was a huge help to me,” Nickels said. “It helped develop my eye for cattle. I’m able to look for faults in an animal and determine how I can fix the problem or help her out.”
Nickels received $500 in prize money for winning supreme champion dairy showman. By taking home supreme showmanship accolades for the second time at the Wisconsin State Fair, Nickels followed in the footsteps of one of her mentors, Kyle Natzke. Also from Dodge County, Natzke is a two-time supreme showmanship winner like Nickels.
“Kyle helped me and my brother, Dawson, get started in showing,” Nickels said. “We’ve also boarded each other’s animals and helped one another out at shows.”
Nickels is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in dairy science with a certificate in agricultural business. She works part time at Budjon Farms in Lomira and also raises 15 show heifers. During the summer, Nickels works at shows and sales caring for and fitting animals all over the Midwest. Nickels said she also spends time at Troy and Sarah Wendorf’s farm.
“My interest in cattle came from working at the Wendorfs’ place,” Nickels said. “The Wendorf family has been a mentor to me and my brother. We started working with them when we were 5 or 6 years old. They gave us animals to show, and we tied with them. Now we’re helping their kids at shows.”
Nickels’ parents, Tom and Penni, grew up on farms but never showed cattle. However, they fully supported their children’s desire to show.
“I want to thank my parents for that,” Nickels said. “They were more than happy to let me and my brother show. They’ve always been there for us. They also take care of our animals when we’re not at home.”
When it comes to offering advice to novice showmen, Nickels said, “Don’t be afraid. Just do it. Stay calm even if your animal is not cooperating and try to lead her the best you can. The more tense you get, the more tense the animal gets. In the beginning, you might end up being in last place. But if you work hard, it will pan out at some point. My brother and I started out last in every class. We were not discouraged. We kept going.”
Nickels worked with mentors to buy better genetics but stands by work ethic as the most critical component of success in the show ring.
“Just because you have one bad day doesn’t mean you should give up on your whole dream,” she said. “Dedication and hard work pay off.”