My favorite thing to do on a warm summer day is to go to a youth dairy show. There is nothing better than being ringside, watching the clean, sleek, carefully prepared animals parading around the ring led by enthusiastic 4-H, FFA or other youth.
     A photo of me at about age 5 has me posing by my siblings’ heifers at a dairy day show in Stillwater, Minn. Maybe that is when the show bug bit me. I know I could not wait to start working with my own calf and go to my first show as a youngster in 4-H.
    Growing up, we were only allowed to show our registered Ayrshires at the county fair, a local dairy day and the state fair for 4-H, if we won a trip. It was a big deal in Washington County where I grew up because the quality of the animals was high. I sometimes had to settle for a clothing or foods trip instead of the coveted dairy trip. That was disappointing as I always aspired to be in the dairy cattle barn.
    In the Annexstad family, cattle showing was not a tradition, but taking livestock and many other projects to the county fair certainly was. My husband and his brothers showed pigs, which were their summer 4-H/FFA projects. Dog showing was a specialty of my sister-in-law’s, and her German Shepherd received many baths and countless hours of obedience training.
    Much has been written about the life lessons learned by working with and showing livestock, and I agree with most of it. The experience sets you on a path of responsibility, tolerance, perseverance and gratitude.
    When our children started in 4-H, our dairy-showing neighbors encouraged us to join them in the cattle barn with calves. Those memories of the first shows are priceless. We have photos of our boys at about 4 feet tall lined up with their friends and their calves. This year, they will be rounding out their 4-H careers with their last show. Emily, with her white shorts and little pink boots in photos from her first show, has already been done for two years. This year, she will miss our fair as her internship is too far away. It will be bittersweet watching the boys show with their friends this year.
    Rolf’s family has embraced the showing routine. The kids are responsible for feeding and care of all of the heifers in the summer. The heifers that are being trained, fed grass hay and kept especially clean have their own pen. Four of these heifers are leased by other 4-H youth. These kids come many times throughout the summer to lead, wash and work with their animals. The boys mentor these youth in training, showing techniques and general knowledge about their animals and our farm. The kids who lease get to see the daily workings of a typical dairy farm and learn skills through working with the calves. My role now is mostly to coordinate the schedule and take a few photos of the kids working together.
    When it is closer to the fair, the boys will start retrieving the show gear from the old barn’s hay mow. That consists of feed buckets, water lines and drinking cups, garbage cans to haul TMR in for the milking cows and more. The show box will be cleaned off and reorganized. Halters will be saddle soaped and inventoried. After many years, we probably have enough of each size for the heifers and cows that we are taking.
    The county fair is about one month away. Leading up to it is always an intense time with washing, clipping and preparing the cattle barn at the fair. Last will come the hauling of the gear, bedding, feed, hay and cattle to the fair.
    The best part is being with the friends we have made in the cow barn. The competition in our small show is friendly and fun. The time spent hanging out in the barn at the fair is a summer highlight – a time to slow down for a few days and visit with friends as they wander through the fair barns.
    Showing cattle takes support. We could not make it without the family friends who help us on show day. When Mike and our employees are finished with morning chores, they will be watching, socializing and maybe holding on to cattle for the state fair lineup. Of course, all of the show ring helpers and photographers are appreciated.
    My mother-in-law makes a huge show day lunch of baked buns for sandwiches and her trade-mark chocolate chip cookies. Milk is served. There are shakes from the Nicollet County ADA after the show for everyone.
    In years to come, these will be our priceless memories. They are the best parts of the summer for our family.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.