Cow Appreciation Day 2017

The first Cow Appreciation Day took place in 2005. If you are unfamiliar with what Cow Appreciation Day is, basically it is a big campaign started by Chick-fil-A. However, since social media exploded and the agriculture community has stormed through the hashtag gates, the meaning of the day has changed a little bit, especially for me. It definitely means something more than a free chicken sandwich and waffle fries.

Being a Beef Showman

Before I started my first year of high school, I picked up a show stick, put a comb in my back pocket and held onto that show halter for dear life. (That last part is a story for another time.) I said goodbye to my softball bat and decided chickens were too small and boring. After watching a group of older 4-Hers battle it out in the show ring, I knew I wanted to show beef cattle. Luckily enough, my mom's co-worker was experienced in that area. So, I was invited to their house one day after they'd agreed to let me show their calf. I think it's safe to say I was "shaking in my boots" from the excitement and terror of working with a real live cow.

I knew next to nothing about cattle, but during my five years of showing I learned how to tie up a heifer, twist a tail, shake the judges' hand and never stop working hard. I learned to accept criticisms, be a role model and to be confident in the ring (okay, I learned you had to be a little cocky, too.) I also learned that sometimes it's about your last name, the people you know and where you came from. Despite that, I ultimately learned the true meaning of responsibility, work ethic and what it takes to control a 1200 pound, and usually very stubborn, animal.

Becoming a beef showman changed the way I viewed myself; in some ways negative, but mostly positive. Suddenly I become a "real 4-Her." I wanted to be in the barn, learn how to fit calves and win a purple banner. I also felt like I was becoming a good example to other showmen and felt proud of what I was doing. However, this was also the first time I worried about where I fit into the formula as a "non-ag" individual. I was surrounded by show families and peers who woke up early to go feed their show animals. I stayed in the barn during the county fair more than any of my competitors because 1.) it was what I was taught to do and 2.) I didn't have a lot of show friends. Thinking about it now, I realize that the show barn was the first place I labeled myself as an outsider to the industry. Boy, what I'd tell myself if I could go back...

The Steer that Changed My Life

So judging by the subheading you just read, you might be expecting me to go on and on about how my first show steer was the best thing that happened to me and blah, blah, blah. Well, you're wrong. I'm actually going to go on and on about how wonderful my second show steer was. Hah! It's not that Big Red wasn't an honorable and important figure in my life, but Bootswinkle the Maine-Anjou steer still holds a special place in my heart.

I showed Boots during my fourth year as a beef showman. For reference, I showed for five years and I have been out of the show ring for three years now. (Wow, that's sad.) Anyhow, Boots was special. He was one of those steers that would come to the gate when he heard the car come down the drive. He'd lick your jeans, use your leg as a scratching post and leap around when you finally took off the halter. And that fur! He was no grizzly bear, but I worked his fur so much that summer. I was determined for him to be a 'fluffy cow.' Boots was not only a great personality show steer but he happened to be around for the turning point of my interest in agriculture.

For many years, I planned to become a small animal veterinarian someday, but the more I worked with Boots, the more I realized I wanted to learn about beef production. I knew that the end of the summer would mean it'd be time for the county fair auction; Boots would go from my cuddly, goofy show steer to someone's dinner. It might be a hard thing to swallow for some, but I'd been through an auction before and had learned firsthand that these animals helped feed my community. All of this combined made me gain an interest in slaughterhouse practices and meat processing. It also influenced my decision to start focusing on what it'd mean to be a food production veterinarian. Of course, my path has shifted again since then, but I do think that my love for this steer kick-started my discovery of the opportunities within the ag industry and was a foundation for my interest in food safety and communication. Plus, I almost hate to say it, he helped kick-start my college savings!

A Cow is More than a PR Campaign

I love Chick-fil-A's food, but ever since I joined the ag communication sector, I have despised their marketing campaign. Why can't their darn cows be anything other than black and white?! Sure, some beef does come from Holsteins, but most Holsteins probably wouldn't argue for consumers to "eat more chicken" so they won't be getting eaten themselves. Why can't there be more accurately depicted beef breeds in the mix, huh? We got ourselves into trouble with the "chocolate milk comes from brown cows" thing, so shouldn't we be annoyed with the Z-using, bad spelling dairy girls that continue to show up in the ads? Fine, maybe it's just me.

If you made it past my ranting, then you get to hear what it all boils down to. Cattle create livelihoods, dinners and great memories for a lot of people. I don't care if you want to throw the words 'greenhouse' and 'gases' and 'methane' at me in the comments; I believe in environmentally-friendly. I don't care if you want to bombard me with evidence that humans can survive on plants; that's fine, I am not attacking your lifestyle. Honestly, I really don't care if you want to yell at me for being a crazy ag student who grew up in the sticks and went around shooting innocent animals; because I didn't and that's not really how it works. My point with this entire post is that we should be thankful for the animals that live their lives to sustain ours and millions of people's across the globe. Be thankful when you cook out with family members on a hot summer day or when you sip your coffee in the morning after you've added your favorite creamer. And, if you attend your local county or state fair, find a friendly-looking showman and ask them what their livestock means to them.  Better yet, ask a mother, a farmer, his wife; I bet you'll be surprised. If you really start to think about it, cows play a role in your life on most days.

Okay, bovine lovers, that brings me to the conclusion of my 2017 Cow Appreciation Day blog post. Hopefully, you kept up with my reminiscent rambling and love for black show steers. Leave me some feedback in the comments below, or connect with me here, here or here!


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