Never too young for the show ring

The Chinook Junior Livestock Show in Claresholm, Alta., provides young people a unique opportunity to hone their skills

CLARESHOLM, Alta. — Put 175 kids and 196 head of cattle into one big building and what do you get? Controlled chaos and a wide array of learning experiences for today’s young people.

That is the scenario at the Chinook Junior Livestock Show, which held its 24th annual event April 24 at the Claresholm Agriplex. It includes events for young people ranging in age from three to 17 plus, with showmanship events and judging of purebred and commercial heifers and commercial steers, the latter divided into three weight divisions.

“It was a capacity crowd of kids and livestock,” said Cecilie Fleming, who with her husband, Duncan, helped organize the first Chinook show and has continued to this day.

Many of the volunteers are former show participants who are taking on responsibilities to ensure the event continues into the future.

Allowing kids to gain experience in showmanship and livestock handling, and all it entails, is the primary goal.

“We’ve got kids that are as green as grass … and then we have some that are fine showmen and fine fitters,” said Fleming.

The event is unique in allowing children as young as three to show cattle and test their showmanship skills. Fleming’s three-year-old granddaughter did so and won reserve champion with her calf named Chubby.

Topline trimming requires careful concentration, which Delanie Knuss of Crossfield, Alta., provides to the job. She was trimming this steer for Tannis Klys before Klys participated in showmanship classes. | Barb Glen photo

Hunter Merrill, 4, of Hill Spring was able to keep his calf calm before showing with liberal use of the belly-scratching show stick and help from Ty Thompson at the halter.

Page Walgenbach, 4, of Fort Macleod was another standout in terms of youth and small size compared to her heifer, which weighed about 1,000 pounds. Her father, Tanner, provided guidance and an anchor as she competed in showmanship.

Youngsters in the Smurf and pee wee classes are typically accompanied by more experienced cattle handlers to ensure safety. That is the most important priority in those classes, showmanship judge Jordan Buba said while providing her remarks.

Karson Kiemele of Hill Spring, Alta., is upbeat as he prepares to enter the ring for the intermediate showmanship class. | Barb Glen photo

Many show participants are 4-H members, but it is not a requirement, said Fleming. Young people can participate in showmanship by showing someone else’s calf if they don’t have one of their own. As well, 4-H members can gain experience to use at upcoming achievement days and other shows.

“Good showmanship comes from more opportunities,” said Fleming.

“Some of these kids are amazing to me, how well they can fit cattle.”

The Chinook show got its start when the Flemings and other ranchers in southern Alberta recognized there were few opportunities for kids to practise their cattle showing and fitting skills other than within 4-H.

From its start, participation has grown to the point where numbers are capped at 200 head. Even at that number, the classes proceed fairly quickly, depending on the deliberations of judges.

Page Walgenbach, 4, of Fort Macleod, Alta., was among the smallest competitors in the Smurf showmanship competition. The young cattle person was assisted in the ring by her father, Tanner Walgenbach. | Barb Glen photo

“When you’re dealing with kids and livestock, it will just go at the pace of progress,” said Fleming.

Parents of the participants are encouraged to let their kids do as much on their own as possible to prepare and show their animals, intervening only when they think it necessary. That’s in keeping with the show’s mandate to provide experience to future participants in the cattle business.

The show also benefits from a long list of sponsors who help with costs and provide various merchandise and prizes to participants and event winners.

“We’re proud of the program and we’re proud of the kids that have come through our program,” said Fleming.

She and the other volunteers already have ideas for 2020, which will be the 25th anniversary of the show.

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