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Beyond the buckles and banners

Showing livestock at the Missouri State Fair helps Cole Murphy share agriculture’s story.

July 25, 2023

4 Min Read
A young man tying up a steer to a metal fence
SHOW READY: It takes Cole Murphy long hours over many months to make an animal ready for the Missouri State Fair. Still, the Houstonia, Mo., showman enjoys the end result of being in the ring — and more importantly, the time spent with family and friends. Photos by Joann Pipkin

by Joann Pipkin

As 20-year-old Cole Murphy puts the finishing touches on his livestock projects for this year’s Missouri State Fair, many of the Sweet Springs FFA member’s fondest memories of the annual agricultural showcase come from outside the ring.

The son of Brent and DeEtta Murphy of rural Houstonia, Mo., his favorite state fair memory was last year when his younger brother, Ty, topped the market goat show.

“Being able to see the whole process, from getting that goat, to all the work he put in through the summer, and then all of that paying off,” Cole says. “It was really, really special.”

But winning the show isn’t the only reason the Murphys return to the Missouri State Fair year after year. For them, some of the best times come from simply kicking back in the livestock barns and fellowshipping with other show families.

“For our family, [the Missouri State Fair] is the highlight of our summer,” Cole says. “It’s where we can showcase all of our hard work that we’ve done in our projects throughout the year.”

And hard work it is. The Murphy brothers exhibit breeding cattle, steers, market hogs and market goats, which has them at the fair every day of the event. Their multispecies entourage means a camping vacation on the fairgrounds, despite the fact that the home farm is an easy 30-minute commute to Sedalia.

“It’s definitely our vacation,” Cole says. “So, we try to get the whole experience and make the most of our time in Sedalia.”

Following mom’s footsteps

Murphy’s parents both grew up showing livestock. It was his mom’s influence as an exhibitor at the Missouri State Fair that has been a driving force behind the family’s experiences there.

DeEtta exhibited steers, heifers and market lambs at the state fair. Her uncle, the late Danny Sims, was instrumental in developing her interest and skills in the trade.

“Being able to hear about the success she had as well as all of the opportunities that came through that and being able to be in the same ring that she showed in is really neat to think about for me and my brother,” Cole explains.

It’s a family tradition Cole hopes he and his brother can continue when they have families of their own, too.

“It’s really amazing to think about what she did and set those same goals for ourselves,” he says. “We’re very lucky to have somebody like that to look up to.”

Learning life lessons

Inside or outside the show ring, Cole knows exhibiting livestock teaches life lessons that are second to none.

From accountability to responsibility, the work ethic that comes from caring for animals has helped him prepare for his future.

After completing two years at Lake Land Community College in Mattoon, Ill., Cole plans to attend Kansas State University this fall to major in animal science with an emphasis on production and management. He will also be a member of K-State’s livestock judging team.

“My end goal is just to gain as much knowledge and accumulate as much experience working for producers out there as I can and be able to bring it back here to our operation and expand what we’re doing,” he explains. “I certainly am looking forward to being able to produce show pigs, and hopefully buy some sows and start my own operation here.”

Cole credits his experiences showing livestock with helping him become more comfortable networking with others. Whether he’s connecting with others in the ring or delivering a set of reasons on the livestock judging team, he says face-to-face interaction is something his generation could benefit from.

“Especially in the cattle or the pig barn where fairgoers talk to you about your projects, in that role you’re not just an exhibitor. You’re more of an advocate for agriculture and being able to make sure the public is properly educated,” Cole says. “Especially at the state fair, if you’re a good advocate you can really demonstrate what the livestock and show industry is truly all about.”

2023 will mark Cole’s 12th appearance in the show ring at the Missouri State Fair.

“[Showing livestock] really is a big family, and whenever you can create relationships with people you meet at the fair while also having life lessons of accountability and work ethic, learning how to win and be humble and graceful,” he says. “Those are the things that will continue to make young people in the livestock industry that much more successful in the real world.”

Pipkin writes from Republic, Mo.

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