“Canceled” is a word that became too familiar in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Livestock show families in Illinois saw event cancellation after event cancellation throughout the year. Whether it was due to health rules, pandemic mitigations or budgets that depended on state funding, many county fairs and shows could not be held. Across the state, however, groups of livestock enthusiasts filled in the gaps, organizing independent shows for young livestock exhibitors.
What do those newly developed shows mean for this sector of the livestock world?
“All of these shows came together for the kids, because we know they are the future of our industry,” says Layna Bond, a key player in helping execute the 2020 Illinois Junior Livestock Classic, as well as the Heart of Illinois Jackpot Show. The Junior Livestock Classic was held in Bloomington and Peoria in August, and the Heart of Illinois Cattle Jackpot show was held in Peoria in December.
Bond grew up showing cattle and pigs near Galatia, and today is a location manager and livestock specialist for Hueber Feed. She believes that even in the tough times of life, such as a global pandemic, adults should guide youth to be optimistic and pursue their passion.
She says the purpose of the Illinois Junior Livestock Classic was to allow Illinois exhibitors to have another opportunity to show animals that they prepared for state fair. The 2021 Illinois Junior Livestock Classic cattle show will be Aug. 28-29 with swine, sheep and goat shows Sept. 4. Location arrangements are still being made.
In Mount Vernon, the Shade Tree Show series filled a gap in southern Illinois shows. Adrian Austin and her family started the series as an avenue for swine exhibitors to showcase their projects regardless of canceled shows on the county, state and national levels.
“When shows started canceling, my older brother, Kane, immediately told us that he wanted us to host some sort of in-person show series,” says Austin, a past Illinois livestock exhibitor and a graduate student at Texas A&M University. “My whole family is very supportive of youth in agriculture and helping others as much as possible, so my parents and I were onboard after some mild convincing from Kane.”
They held four shows during the last two weekends in July under the shade trees of the Austin family cow pastures. She says they also hosted a virtual show series for exhibitors who bought pigs from their family for the 2020 show season.
“Last summer was filled with a lot of firsts for us, but we enjoyed being able to provide those opportunities to young people,” Austin says.
Raising company profiles
Jackpot shows have also given livestock companies the opportunity to become involved in ways many never imagined. The folks at Earlybird Feed & Fertilizer started a pig show in 2019, the Earlybird Showdown, and built on it in 2020 to create more experiences for young livestock exhibitors.
“The show has allowed us to give back to our customers and to the people who put so much trust into Earlybird,” says Codee Schlipf Schmidgall, marketing specialist at Earlybird. “Supporting the youth in this industry has always been a mission of ours, and we plan on continuing to find ways to give back.”
Reflecting on 2020, Bond, Austin and Schmidgall believe that the livestock community came together in a year of uncertainty and unknowns, and have found ways to develop the show scene in new ways.
“While certain historical shows and events will always hold prevalence in our industry, 2020 seemed to set the stage for innovative transitions,” Austin says. “This has opened the door to growth in our industry and different show settings that we haven’t seen before.”
Moving forward into the 2021 show season, exhibitors will see more events that mimic the livestock show dynamic of last year.
“Just because a nationwide virus has happened, we cannot stop agriculture,” Bond says. “We know 2021 isn’t going to be normal either, but we have to adjust to the new normal. That is going to mean more of these one- or two-day jackpot shows.”
Wondering how the independent state and local show schedule is shaping up for this summer? We’ve put together a list below.
Looking ahead to the 2021 Illinois State Fair
When you can’t have a state fair, what do you do for young livestock exhibitors? The Illinois Department of Agriculture had an answer: It put on the 2020 IDOA Junior Livestock Expo for seven species over two weekends in September last year.
“We had over 2,200 entries and awarded over $38,000 in premiums,” says Kevin Gordon, Illinois State Fair manager. “This alternative show was about taking care of the youngsters in agriculture, because they are the future.”
The Junior Livestock Expo shows may not have been as extensive as Illinois State Fair shows, where open and junior livestock entries totaled over 11,000 in 2019. However, the event was still successful, says Stephanie Hardy, Illinois State Fair competitive events manager. She says they heard a lot of positive feedback from families who enjoyed the opportunity to be in a show ring again.
This year, staff is geared up to hold a normal state fair.
“Since we canceled the state fair last year, we have been full speed ahead in our planning process,” Gordon says. “We have a lot of new things that we are going to roll out to bring the fairgoers back to the Illinois State Fair.”
In 2019, the Illinois State Fair hit record numbers for total revenues along with both grandstand ticket sales of 63,633 and ticket revenue of $2,276,131. These numbers compare to the 59,023 ticket sales in 2017 and $2,082,078 in ticket revenue in 2016.
The fair also saw an increase in several livestock entry categories compared to 2018. In the open livestock department, beef entries increased by 374, sheep entries increased by 196 and goat entries increased by 426. Also, the junior dairy cattle division saw an increase in 77 head. Staff is motivated to keep increasing the number of participants at the state fair, Gordon says.
How will COVID-19 protocols look at the state fair? Gordon says they’re working closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Sangamon County Department of Public Health to determine health and safety steps. Until the fair gets closer, they won’t know exactly what the protocols will be.
“It is a personal choice, but it is extremely important for individuals to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to get back to some sort of normalcy,” Gordon says. “This will make certain that our fair is safe and successful for all attendees.”