June 8, 2009
Calves and kids learn at Dairy Rodeo
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Under the watchful eye of his father Marty Slade, Jackson Slade, 5, learns to handle a small calf during the Dairy Rodeo at the Cortland County Fairgrounds Saturday.
CORTLANDVILLE — The Cortland County Fairground’s main livestock barn was a place of learning Saturday, for both children planning to show cattle in next month’s County Junior Fair and for the Holstein calves they practiced with.
Three area farms let the annual Dairy Rodeo borrow calves that, because they were just born in March, had not been handled much. About 30 children ages 5 to 12 practiced clipping the calves’ coats, washing them and teaching them to be led by halter.
The event wrapped up with a practice show where the children coaxed the calves into walking through the main arena.
Throughout the afternoon, children weighing maybe 100 pounds learned to lead the calves, which weighed 300 to 400 pounds — and did not always want to be led.
“Here we go,” said Jackson Slade, age 5, to a calf that was planting its hooves firmly in the soil and mooing in protest. “Good girl, good girl.”
“The calf’s never done this,” said Jackson’s father, Marty, who coached his son on what to say while holding part of the rope. Younger son Mason, 3, pulled on the end of the rope that his father left trailing.
“Mason can hardly wait to do this too,” said Marty’s wife, Danielle.
Jackson’s cousin, Hannah Slade, also 5, worked nearby with her own calf, aided by her father, Marty’s brother Casey.
Marty said he and his brother started showing cattle at age 5, learning as Jackson and Hannah were and then showing at the Junior Fair. The brothers do not work on a farm now but own some cattle, Marty at his Groton residence and Casey in Scott.
Next to the cousins, Danielle’s sister, 9-year-old Avery Barber of East Freetown, practiced on a calf of her own.
One girl was struggling to lead a calf that fought the halter, so her father patted the calf on the flank and it moved forward.
“The farms always thank us for this,” said Syd McEvoy, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County executive director. “The calves come back clean, clipped and broke to halter.”
The farms were Weddle family’s Westan Farm in Homer, Co-Vale Farm in Preble and the Currie family farm in Tully.
McEvoy said he started showing cattle the same way as a boy. His father, Charlie, taught children how to handle cattle for years.
“This rodeo just builds their confidence,” McEvoy said. “Some of these kids have never been to the fair.”
The Junior Fair will be from July 7 to 11. Livestock categories will include dairy cattle of different age and breed classes, dairy goats, meat goats, beef cattle, sheep and pigs.
Outside, next to the barn Saturday, high school students Matt Sharpe of Truxton and Lucas Potter of Marcellus showed children how to run electric clippers over a calf’s flank, legs and neck.
They taught such skills as consistency of stroke, holding the device itself and how to clip without cutting the animal.
“Be aware of the sun, keep the calf out of the sun after you’ve clipped her or she’ll get sunburned,” Potter told one boy.
The animals are clipped so judges can see their physical attributes and so they look good.
Sharpe, a senior at Homer High School, said his farm has 300 cattle, 45 of them his own. He said he learned to clip at age 7, when he got his first calf.
Sharpe said he had just spent three days last week helping his family show 27 cattle, to be classified. His own clippers were a bit dull from being used so much.
Cattle are “classified” when they are inspected for physical attributes, temperament and market value.
Sharpe said all of them were classified and one 3-year-old scored an 88, the highest his family’s farm has gotten.
McEvoy said cattle used to have just their heads, shoulders and tail clipped for being shown when he was a boy and teenager.
“The industry has become more competitive,” he said. “Standards have changed.”
Sharpe said if a calf or adult cow is being shown with many others, if it is not clipped well, the judge might not give it a second glance.
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