Showing cows started at an early age in my family and continued until I graduated high school.

Showing cows started at an early age in my family and continued until I graduated high school.

Summertime means school vacation, ice cream cones, cook outs and swimming in the local pool but for farm kids, it means the county fair is right around the corner. One of my favorite things to do during the summer was not only go to the county fair but live there with my cows, pigs and any other animal that my sisters and I could convince my parents to allow us to take for the week.

I’m a firm believer of being a lifelong learner and growing up as a farm kid and attending the county fair with my animals was a critical part of lifelong learning. It allowed me to grow, learn defeat and other critical life lessons at a young age. Fair week preparations begin months before the fair opens to the public and the lessons that I learned as a county fair kid are still part of my daily life today. Here are three lessons I learned that have served me well into my adult years.

Winning Isn’t Everything – Everything is judged at the county fair – the cleanliness of your animal, how well you can lead your animal around the show ring and how your animal compares to other animals of a similar age. So since everything is judged, it’s tough to not think about anything but winning. Farm kids work for months before the fair to ensure their animal is friendly, clean and tame enough to walk around a show ring come fair time. Upon arriving at the fair, the obvious goal is to try to walk away with a championship banner, trophy or 1st place prize, but for so many, including me, that never happens. Rather we walk away with our heads held high knowing we tried our best and never gave up. The lesson here of putting forth the effort of preparing for the fair enables kids like me even today as an adult, to understand and appreciate the fact that hard work will help me succeed in life more than any trophy on a shelf.

Responsibility – Growing up as a farm kid the lessons in responsibility were endless and have shaped who I am as an individual today. Showing animals at the county fair was a privilege, but with it came a lot of responsibility. It was up to me to make sure my animals were ready for show day and to finish our daily chores. One of the greatest lessons in responsibility that I learned and continue to be grateful for today is the ability to ask for help when I need it. Preparing for the fair as a kid is a lot of work and I quickly learned that while it was my responsibility, I knew I needed help at times to complete tasks that were too large for me to complete on my own. I can remember one of the first times I asked for help on the farm was when I was trying to teach my calf to lead for show day. My dad quickly jumped in, gave me some pointers, helped guide me and let me continue to work towards success. I still ask for help today. My job is my responsibility and it’s up to me to ask for help and guidance when I need it.

I'm a lifelong learner and some of the best lessons learned were on the farm and at the county fair.

Delphinium (shown here) was the last cow I took to the county fair. I’m a lifelong learner and some of the best lessons I learned were on the farm and at the county fair.

Self-Confidence – I once read a statement that said, “Confidence comes naturally with success, but success comes only to those who are confident.” This couldn’t be a more true statement when thinking about the county fair as a farm kid. I grew up in a small county so I knew everyone I was competing against including my sisters and friends. Personally, I think it’s harder to build your confidence level when you are up against everyone you know. I remember when I was 14 years old and I was about to enter the show ring with my young heifer. I kept thinking to myself that I was already defeated because I looked around the ring and saw some great showmen, all of whom I knew. Mentally, I gave up, letting my mind take over when in reality, I just needed to have some confidence in myself as I was just as good as anyone else in the show ring. Sure enough, my head got the best of me and I placed dead last in the class. My confidence was deflated. The following year, before I even entered the show ring, I told myself I could be just as good as everyone else. I had worked hard and prepared for the day. I had put the time and effort in to being a good showman, and I entered the ring with confidence – and I walked away a champion!  The same mentality is true in life. Face each day with the confidence that you can make a difference, change the outlook for someone or help someone in need, and you will succeed, you will.

It’s county fair time, and as I walk through the barns admiring the animals and exhibits at a variety of county fairs, I can’t help but think what lessons the next generation of farm kids are learning by being lucky enough to have grown up on a farm in rural America.