I thought she had the most pretty pink nose and deep soft eyes. Her brown and white hair coat was the most sleek and soft of all the calves. She was attractive in the way I still think most Guernsey calves are attractive: alert, friendly and healthy with a robust love for affection.
Jo-Jo would come to me whenever I stood at the side of the fence calling her name. I thought she was the right calf — the daughter of my grandmother’s grand champion winning cow, Josie—to catapult me to immediate success for my next decade of 4-H exhibitions at Maine’s agricultural fairs.
I was 10 years old. I thought I was right.
As a 10-year-old, I could officially participate in exhibiting a cow on my own through 4-H. Hours of hands-on preparation in proper cow washing and grooming, practicing with friends in mock-competitions, learning about cow traits and facts, and watching more experienced 4-Hers, gave me a basic foundation to do my best at my first 4-H show.
It would be up to me to use my preparation to display a visual answer to questions that would likely be on the judge’s mind, including, “Is the animal responding to subtle commands while being led around the show ring? Is the calf as clean as can be? Are the calf and handler a good match for the task at hand?”
In the early dawn of August, I woke to the bleep of the alarm clock. It was time to clean out the stalls of the barn at the fair and bathe all of the heifers I would exhibit. After the cows were cleaned and fed, it was time to feed and clean up myself before the show.
Standing at the entryway of the show ring, with Jo-Jo by my side, I watched the eldest 4-Hers complete their competitions. I whispered in Jo-Jo’s ear, “Here we go, Jo-Jo!” She gave a typical reply: a cud chewing burp, and contented gaze.
Jo-Jo, while pleasant, calm and affectionate, was not entirely interested in parading herself for an exhibition. Despite my best efforts to coax Jo-Jo into looking alert and responsive to my lead, she turned out to be the kind of bovine who was more likely to dream she was outside, standing in a field versus being outstanding in her field.
It turns out it only takes a slight difference in emphasis to make a big difference in results.
In the age bracket for my class, there were kids with three years of experience competing in 4-H shows. There were kids with no experience at all with animals, much less 4-H shows. On this continuum of preparation, experience and skill, I was somewhere in the middle, which is the same place I found myself in the results at the end of my first 4-H show.
I wasn’t last. I wasn’t first. But I will always remember what I whispered to Jo-Jo as I saw my fellow 4-Hers receiving ribbons they earned for higher rankings, “There’s nowhere to go but up!”
Anne Trenholm operates Wholesome Holmstead Farm with her family in Winthrop.
Tell us stories about the culture of self-reliant Mainers, the ingenuity of their enterprises, and how they live in connection to their homes, land, animals and community.