Youth Livestock Shows Offer Life Lessons
Family traditions can make more than fond memories. If you ask Jared Schlipf, some make the man.
“Livestock showing is great for youth,” says Schlipf, a third-generation youth livestock competitor. “It teaches responsibility and helps kids develop life skills and a strong work ethic.”
Schlipf and his five siblings began showing livestock – like their father and grandfather before them – as soon as they were old enough to join 4-H, the youth development program of the Cooperative Extension System that provides hands-on learning activities in the areas of science, citizenship and healthy living.
“Ever since we were old enough to carry feed buckets and help with chores, we’ve been involved with livestock,” says Schlipf, who owns Lone Wolf Treestands and farms in Edwards, just outside of Peoria. “The cool thing was that it gave us a lot of family time and time outside.”
Today, Schlipf’s four children and their cousins continue that dawn-to-dusk tradition.
“You get out of it what you put into it,” Schlipf says. “All these kids involved in livestock have a strong work ethic – a willingness to get up early and work late in the evening.”
The Schlipf’s multigenerational dedication has paid off with grand champion titles at the Illinois State Fair more than a few times over the years.
“They are quite a family,” says Brian Sager, who has served as general livestock superintendent for the Illinois State Fair for the past nine years and junior dairy cattle superintendent for the past 35 years. “It is a joy to see the enthusiasm that surrounds generations of families who participate in the Illinois State Fair together, and the quality standards and family traditions passing from one generation to the next.”
The Illinois State Fair hosts competitions for 13 species of animals – from rabbits to roosters and hogs to horses. As young competitors learn the ropes of livestock competition, they begin to understand the importance of good health, proper feed and exercise programs for their animals.
“In summertime, we spent a lot of time exercising the animals. There was a lot of work involved, but we did it together,” Schlipf says. “It was good family time.”
As the animals build muscle, their young caretakers build a sense of responsibility.
“The life of the animals they’re caring for is truly in their hands,” Sager says. “Our livestock kids are some of the most responsible people I’ve ever met.”
Sarah Deschepper of Altona falls firmly in that category.
“I was 7 when I got my first lamb,” says Deschepper, who recently graduated from Western Illinois University with an agribusiness degree. “I was the first one in our family ever to show.”
Because “cows are too big,” young Sarah began raising sheep in the yard of their home on the edge of town. She would go on to win the top prize in her division at the state fair four times and create a family tradition that her younger siblings enjoy today.
These young competitors learn about ethical showmanship and gain an eye for quality livestock, all while providing the best care for their animals.
“What we take for granted, many people just don’t understand,” Sager says. “The state fair is a good opportunity to educate.”
Those opportunities have transformed Deschepper from a painfully shy child into a skilled communicator. Today, she speaks to large groups and navigates media questions – even confrontations with animal rights activists – with confidence.
“I was the most shy little kid you ever met, but I’ve come a long way,” she says.
While livestock showing focuses on the animal, the people make the experience even more memorable.
“Some of the best memories I have are interacting with other exhibitors, developing bonds and friendships that have lasted a lifetime,” says Schlipf, who notes that some of those early friendships blossom into business relationships later in life. “Now our kids are showing against our friends’ kids. It’s amazing to see how that competitiveness and drive are passed down.”
Deschepper found herself embraced by the family feeling she found at the fair.
“It’s a tight-knit group that would do anything for you,” she says. “You might put your game face on for a couple hours, but then you’re going out to eat together afterwards.”
Along with fast friendships, competitors gain real-life skills in project management, communication and budgeting that prepare them for the road ahead – whether that road leads them back to or beyond the farm.
“Livestock showing keeps kids involved in something meaningful and prepares them for life – whatever jobs they end up having,” Schlipf says.
Deschepper wishes more young people could share in the tough-but-rewarding experience that shaped her life.“ Most kids don’t understand what it’s like to get up at the crack of dawn – even when there’s a blizzard outside – and take care of animals and their babies,” Deschepper says. “I wish all kids could have the opportunity to come to the farm.”
Much like life, livestock showing revolves more around the journey than the destination.
As Schlipf says, “Before the state fair is even over, we’re talking about next year.”