Quality Counts

Building Character: 91st Annual Central Texas Youth Fair brings quality livestock to the show ring along with a vast array of ag-related projects to be judged in Clifton

CLIFTON – The Central Texas Youth Fair in Clifton always offers a well-rounded county fair, with a wide range of events for county Future Farmers of America and 4-H students to compete in. There might not be a whole lot of entries, but the quality is high, making it a competitive, worthwhile show for the local youth. And all the show judges complimented the participants on the high quality of their animals, their showmanship and the CTYF board and volunteers for putting on a good show.

It was hot, dang hot. And for the 120 participants in the 91st Annual Central Texas Youth Fair June 7-11, it meant they would have to work that little bit harder to show off their prized livestock, Home Economics, Cakes, Crops and Ag Mechanics projects, and to keep their animals as comfortable as possible with lots of water baths. Because if anything, participating in county fairs builds character through dedication, hard work, preparation, and learning to deal with set backs and losses as well as wins. Perseverance and patience came into play when some livestock projects really did not want to be in that show ring, and made their handlers work hard at keeping them in check.

All the hard work prior to the show, often with the aid of the whole family, was about to pay off. And the youth did an incredible job of presenting their projects in an out of the ring. The spectators could see the triumph on the faces of the class champs and the disappointment for those just missing out on a special accolade. The judges in the arenas explained though, that it is their personal preference they pick, and that another judge on another day in another show might choose differently.

At a smaller county show like the CTYF, judges have the time to explain to exhibitors the plusses and the minuses of their livestock or project. This show offers the youth and their animals ring experience in a smaller more informal setting, allowing them to get ready for bigger stock shows.

As important as any ribbon for a quality animal, is the Showmanship Award. It judges the participant on presence in the ring, knowing how to showcase their animal to its best qualities, knowing how to control it in the stressful ring environment with other animals, and keeping eye contact with the judge. Having the record book in order, to the very last detail – gives another chance to win. This year Autumn Lane had an exceptional perfect score for her goat record book.

The county fair always starts off with the judging of cakes and the Record Quiz Class Contest on the Tuesday, followed by Commercial Heifer judging on Wednesday. Thursday and Fridays are the busiest days in the show rings with youth showing market ready broilers, rabbits, swine, lambs, goats and steers. Thursday also saw the jackpot – or prospect – shows. In the livestock, the swine and lamb shows saw the most participants. Prior to the fair, the animals need to be validated. This year, there were 19 pens of rabbits, 11 pens of broilers, 53 pigs, 26 goats, 28 sheep, 21 steers and 4 pens of commercial heifers.

The numbers were down from last year, especially on the jackpot shows for steers, breeding heifers, goats and lambs. Many of the livestock showers also entered the popular cake show with 46 contestants. Whereas the livestock arenas draw the most visitors to the fair, few realize that the open Home Economics show – which includes sewing, textiles, art, photography, crafts, canned goods, homegrown vegetables, horticulture, pallet projects and baked goods – with its 577 registered entries draws the most interest from youth and adults alike.

For Valley Mills FFA member Mallory Burton, the swine show was the start of a very busy and successful fair. She was showing pigs, lambs, and goats at the top level, earning her the Title High Point Individual. She won overall Grand and Reserve Champion in the lamb arena. In the swine ring, she often ended up in the last three together with Valley Mills’ Cash Swearingen and Iredell’s Kasen Wilson. Judge Ron Snyder was especially complimentary about her showmanship, saying he could watch her show “all day, any day.”

Working hard with seven swine in competition, Burton won Senior Showmanship in the hog ring, after winning the Grand Champion in the heavy class, and Overall Reserve. She also won the light weight division Reserve Champion. Kasen had three swine in the ring and went on to win the medium weight Grand Champion and the Overall Grand Champion and Senior Record book. After showing 11 hogs, Cash took light weight Grand Champion, and Division Reserve in the heavy and medium weight classes.

In the market shows, all judges liked to see good structure, a lot of muscle – which translates to product -- but combined with some athleticism – which means heavier is not always better. They use terms like “more meat and potatoes,” “true and square,” “well-rounded, good structure,” “powerful,” ‘with Wow-factor,” “good fresh look,” “well-conditioned,” ”packing the heat,” “got the bulk,” “market-ready all the way,” “smooth and show-ready,” “chock full of red meat,” “biggest and boldest” to explain what they saw. When it came down to choosing between the champion and the reserve champion overall in the goats, Judge JD Pruitt asked himself “which one would I want my daughter to be showing?” His choice went to Meridian FFA’s Alex Rodriguez, with Meridian FFA’s Elise Garza in Reserve.

“If you compare these six goats out here I’m very proud of this set that I’ve put together here,” Judge JD Pruitt said during the grand overall goat drive on Friday. “All of them have good body – they’re long, they’re tall in the shoulder.”

Both Alex and Elise were awarded Senior Showmanship – Alex in goats, Elise in lambs. They were quick to set their projects better, kept eye contact with the judge, were smooth during their presentations. To Pruitt a good showman is not someone with the best animal, or that had the most money to groom the animal, but someone that has worked with their animal the most and showed all its positive sides.

“When it comes to me, I want that goat ready when I put my hands on them; I want them lined out from the side; I want their feet to be set up,” Pruitt said of things he watches for in Showmanship. “I think there are two or three that kinda rose to the top. Maybe they’ve been out showing just a little bit longer than some of the others. I also want somebody to be aggressive and say ‘pick me, I’m the winner.’’’

Judge Kenneth Drews from Marlin came to Clifton to judge broilers and rabbits. In both arenas, he looked for uniformity in weight and build in the pens. Especially with the rabbits, assisted by show coordinator Cathy Little, Drews took his time to make sure he graded them in the right order. Area rabbit queen Hailey Isaacs from Clifton FFA went on to win Grand Champion. First time participant Katie King – also a Clifton FFA member – in her cute hot pink shirt and matching head bandana placed second. Clifton FFA’s Regan Brooks took Grand Champion with her broilers, with Iredell FFA’s Renee Ramsey taking Reserve.

At the Ag Mechanics show Thursday, Judge Charles Prause, a retired Ag teacher from Bosqueville, asked extensive questions to the participants. According to the Ag Mechanics coordinator Jason Whitney, the communication factor in this contest is important because some youth are too shy to talk about anything. But they are able to talk about their ag projects.

On show were a seed/corn spreader, an antler lamp, a dog kennel, an Adirondack chair, terrace loungers, a wooden chest, two cornhole sets, a sturdy table a chess table and two fire pits. A new item in Ag Mechanics was the build off. The entering teams did not know what they would be creating until Fair week. Cranfills Gap FFA won the hog panel build off, with Iredell FFA in tow. The Blue Print contest was won by Iredell’s Kasen Wilson.

A junior next school year, Iredell FFA’s Paisley Chandler is your typical high-achieving small town student. She says likes to “stay busy” after school, explaining all the extra-curricular activities she participates in. She went to Cross Country regionals, and made it to state in pole vaulting, something she does year round. And as if that’s not enough, Paisley is also a cheerleader for her Iredell Dragons, an enthusiastic basketball player, and manages to be top of her class academically.

Up until the market steer show on Friday afternoon, Paisley could be seen in most arenas, showing the diversity of her interests. She won first place with the tomatoes and second in summer squash in the Crop Show. Her Class 7 hog place second, her Class 6 hog placed fourth, and her middle weight goat placed third. While her broilers only placed seventh, Paisley did receive the Senior Record Book accolade. Additionally, she participated in Ag Mechanics with an antler lighting fixture.

Friday was the day of “the big boys” with some hefty steers, ranging from 1000 to nearly 1600 pounds. Most impressively, some of these bulky bovines were led by youngsters weighing a tenth of their weight. Every now and then CTYF Secretary and steer whisperer supreme MaryAnn Brandenberger would step in to scratch the booty or tickle the tail to coax the animal into complying with the commands. She has a gentle assertiveness and authority over the big animals.

Roped in by her father who was the steer and heifer supervisor back then, Brandenberger has been supervising the cattle rings at the CTYF since she was a Freshman at Tarleton – that is 34 years and counting. And before that she was a youth contestant with Angus steers and heifers and traveled the nation with her brother Mark showing Angus cattle. Besides the steer ring, she could be seen assisting with the rabbits and hogs “helping and filling in where necessary.”

It was Judge Ernie Dominguez from Elgin’ second time to judge the CTYF, and the first time in his judging career that he found a Hereford steer to be the best in show. With her steer called Linda, Gracie Kessler beat out Reserve Champion Heather Thiele’s red British steer and Makail Brandenberger’s European Cross. Gracie will be taking Linda to the State Fair in September. Dominguez commented that with the very different sizes and builds of the projects, it was difficult to choose between them, especially since they were all of excellent quality. He awarded Jackson Roscher Senior Showmanship for his very natural and smooth presentation of his steer.

For Brandenberger, fair time is just the best and favorite time of the year – the team spirit of the volunteers, helping out the youthful participants, mentoring where necessary. And she loves “fair food” like the breakfast burritos, funnel cakes and Frito pies the concession stand cooks up.

Most of the steers competing in the market steer arena also were in the Native Steer Class – steers born and raised in Bosque County.

For those siblings, nephews, nieces and cousins too young to show livestock themselves there were several opportunities to gain some early experience in the arena, like the Saturday morning Pet Show and the Pee Wee halter lamb, goat and swine events.

The livestock premium auction is a tradition of county fairs. It is an established reward system honoring young people for the efforts they made to develop and show quality livestock. Through their efforts they learn leadership, agricultural skills and the value of hard work. Because after all, that is why there is livestock shows – to make money in auction so youth can buy another project, or for the scholarship fund. And many youth support groups and FFA alumni end up buying the animals, and there is a steady group of generous local businesses and individuals that buy the animals outright or add-on money to a sale. Armed with bid cards, project lists, bottles of water and fans, they endured the sweltering heat in the sale barn to support their youth and their projects.

Besides many personal highlights – which were reiterated as they came into the sale ring on Saturday afternoon – CTYF former President Ronnie Liardon presented five scholarships before the Premium Sale Saturday. Receiving scholarships were Samantha McGinnis, Blake Barrett, Brianna Presscher, Stephen Murphy and Melissa Tergerson. Liardon also thanked the 2022 CTYF Honorees Bill and Betty Murdoch for supporting the area youth with their purchases and add-ons during the Sale over the 30-35 years they have done so.

Growing up in Hamilton, Murdoch experienced first-hand the importance of farming and ranching.  As an adult, he quickly learned that the future of agriculture depended on the youth, and he has committed himself to helping the youth of Bosque County in countless ways.  Murdoch first became involved with the CTYF when he began his longstanding business, Bosque Supply, in Clifton in 1984.  He quickly made helping out at the fair a family event when he and his family moved to Clifton in 1985.  He has helped out in the concession stand grilling hamburgers and especially helps out on CTYF Sale Day.  It is not uncommon for Mr. Murdoch to purchase projects, to raise base prices on animals, or to add-on to projects for numerous Bosque County exhibitors.

An example of how Murdoch and his company make sure everybody gets a fair shake, Bosque Supply raised all swine prices to $1200, and all lambs to $1100 this year. Here and there they added on a single higher amount.

“He is always willing to donate supplies for FFA/4-H projects, pay for students to get certificates in welding, support local fundraisers for scholarships and participate in buyer groups for the annual fair,” Brandenberger said in her capacity as CTYF Secretary. “In all honesty, Bill is willing to do anything and everything to help out a kid.

“The CTYF Officers and Board of Directors are truly grateful to Bill Murdoch for his past, present and future dedication to all Bosque County youth.  His generosity does not go unnoticed or unappreciated by so many.  Congratulations to Bill Murdoch, the 2022 Central Texas Youth Fair Honoree!”

Murdoch is a familiar smiling face in the Clifton community. Besides being an advocate for youth agriculture, he has been involved with several other community organizations, such as being a member of the Clifton Independent School District Board for nine years – five of which as President – a member of North Bosque Emergency Medical Services Board for eight years, a member of Clifton Higher Education Foundation for two years, and a member of Clifton Economic Development Corporation for four years.

“We’re here to support the kids,” Bill Murdoch said, seated as always in the first row of the auction arena. “We buy anything and everything, but we usually do add-ons for kids; to add on to those not getting a good amount for their animals. I don’t care where in the county they’re from.”

Driving up the prices in the barn filled with bleachers and buyers, was auctioneer Kirk Jerningen, and assisted by spotters Todd Clift, Ronnie Liardon. Bosque County Ag Agent Chelsea Dorward took over from usual arena director Roger Parks.

It is often a financial necessity to sell the animal to be processed, and only a lucky few of the animals get to retire and be set out to pasture after the show. Brandenberger’s daughter Dace had two award-winning steers her senior year that are now pampered pets on the family farm – much to granddad’s dismay. The “boys” Babe and Bird are very, very special and have immense sentimental value to Dace. In return, they always seem to sense when she’s home from college, and come running to greet her, which is priceless.

Increasing sales in goats, rabbits and cakes in the past years would indicate that the more economic options are drawing in the next generation of FFA members. These categories have the highest yield – not in total sales, but pound for pound. For example, Autumn Lane’s 100 pound goat received a $3000 bid – that is $30 per pound. Gracie Kessler’s 1295 pound steer on the other hand made $5100, which translates to only $3.94 per pound.

All in all, the Central Texas Youth Fair in Clifton is woven into the fabric of Bosque County’s rural character. Historically it is a very important annual event for youth showing livestock and other projects, for their families and their supporters, solidifying lessons and memories for a lifetime. A complete list of participants and entries can be found through the following link to the CTYF Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/centraltexasyouthfair

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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