October 23, 2021

Steering future leaders

Youths in 65th Dairy Cattle Showmanship event

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Ben Axell, 17, left, and Daniel Ripley, 18, show cattle Thursday during the age 16 to adult showmanship preliminaries at the Cortland County Fairgrounds. The event is part of the Cortland County Junior Fair, which ends today.

Teenagers and kids as young as 8 years old ushered cattle that dwarfed them through a large pavilion, some more successful than others.

One by one, the animals and their handlers followed each other in an oval rotation. At the eye of the formation stood a judge analyzing every step and movement of the handler with the animal.

It was a familiar routine programmed into most of the animals.

The kids fought for control with all their strength, pulling the cattle back in line. Success was rarely easy. And it was forcefully earned.

In about a 45-minute period the kids and their cattle made countless laps inside the pavilion, at times switching animals. Answers to the judge’s questions were expected to be precise and quick.

Competitors who demonstrated the best showmanship — their presentation, the presentation of their cattle, their handling of the animals and their knowledge — took home blue ribbons Thursday in the 65th annual Cortland County Junior Fair Dairy Cattle Showmanship.

“The kids are really into it,” said Heather Birdsall, a livestock specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County — which helps run the fair. About 60 kids took part in the showmanship competition, each dressed in pristine white clothing, donning a number for competition on their back.

The day started with preliminary competitions, where four kids from each age group were selected to go to the finals. The winners then competed for the championship.

Participants in the Junior Fair can go on to compete in the New York State Fair, which begins Aug. 22 in Geddes.

Emma Gendron, 18, left, of Cincinnatus demonstrates her dairy showmanship skills Thursday to judge Cassie Chittenden of Schodack Landing during the Cortland County Junior Fair showmanship preliminaries.

In one of her last years of competition, 17-year-old Willet resident Emma Gendron for the first time placed first in her age class — 16 and older, for the preliminary.

“I’m usually in the top of the class, but never first,” she said with a smile.

In the finals she claimed reserve grand champion — second place. Daniel Ripley, 18, of Moravia won the championship.

The judge, Cassie Chittenden, said Gendron’s jersey breed floated around the ring and Gendron knew exactly what to do.

Chittenden tested each competitor, Gendron said. But what helped her come out on top in her class was she has worked with her 7-year-old jersey, Angel, since she was a calf. Gendron said Angel can get restless and tired, but she knows her cow well.

Ben Axtell, 17, of Deposit, has some time to go before he knows his animal that well. The event was his 1-year-old animal’s first competition.

“There’s still a bit of training,” Axtell said. “She needs to get us to the (competition) environment.”

As closely as the judge watched the kids, so did their relatives. For the Ripley family competitors, one of those members was their 79-year-old grandfather, Roland Ripley, the second-ever overall champion of the showmanship competition in 1955.

Roland Ripley’s father died the year before the 1955 competition. He had to train himself how to compete, he said.

It was just he and his animal at the 1955 competition. That was enough to win the entire event.

He took his experience and taught his kids and his grandchildren how to compete, he said. Now he is just on the sidelines for support.

However, a special event Thursday gave him and about 40 other champions the chance to take a few laps around the pavilion demonstrating their best showmanship to celebrate 65 years of competition.

“Tradition runs so deep here in Cortland,” said Birdsall, pointing out competitors’ ties to previous champions. All hoping to be as successful as the generations before them.