Farm Horizons, May 2006

4-H member shows beef cattle for first time, and wins

By Liz Hellmann

Angus beef cows are known for their high-strung personalities and hostile natures. But that didn’t stop Nathan Kuhlmannn, 14, of Lester Prairie from leading his beef cows through award-winning performances at the McLeod County and Minnesota State fairs last year.

“They’re known to be hostile animals, and he tamed them down,” said Mark Kuhlmannn, Nathan’s dad.

“I was just in it to learn,” Nathan said.

He learned well, as this Bergen Busy Bee 4-H member earned reserve champion for showmanship and grand champion for a cow/calf pair at the McLeod County Fair, and a blue ribbon for a cow/calf pair at the Minnesota State Fair last summer. Not bad for his first year showing beef cattle.

Grand champion is the highest award, followed by reserve champion, blue ribbon, red ribbon, and white ribbon.

No more cattle

Although Nathan had never shown beef cattle before last year, the animal was no stranger in the Kuhlmannn household.

Mark Kuhlmannn spent 11 years as a commercial hauler of cattle, including hauling for fairs, before deciding to give it up. After that, Kuhlmannn didn’t want another cow on his place again – his son put an end to that.

After decided to show beef cows at the fair, Nathan bought three pregnant cows, which since then have turned into six cows.

One of those cow/calf pairs became Nathan’s main focus for the next three months.

As soon as it was warm enough, Nathan worked with his animals every day.

Learning to lead

“I had to wait until after the cow had its calf. You couldn’t get close to her before that,” Nathan said.

Even after the calf was born, the cow was so protective, it was hard for Nathan to give the calf its shots.

Somehow, Nathan had to figure out a way to not only get close to the cows, but to lead them.

“I just kept walking up to it every day, trying to get it used to me,” Nathan said.

Many people use different techniques to train a cow to follow them, including using other animals, like donkeys as an example for the cow.

But Nathan didn’t use anything else.

“Nathan just spent hours and hours with it,” said Patty Kuhlmannn, Nathan’s mom.

His time eventually paid off, and the cow followed him, but only him.

“My cow wouldn’t let anyone lead it but me,” Nathan said.

“It was a one person animal,” Patty said. “If anyone else tried to grab the cow, they’d go flying.”

In fact, Nathan Ide was helping Nathan train the cow and calf for the fair when he made the mistake of reaching for the rope, and got knocked off his balance.

“Ide really helped me a lot,” Nathan said. “I was kind of learning this on my own.”

Bucking tradition

Many families have a long line of tradition showing beef cattle, but Nathan, who just decided to do it last year, needed all the help he could get.

Ide came over on a regular basis to give Nathan pointers and help him train, but one day, it was the cow that did the teaching.

As Nathan tied the cow up to eat, he made the mistake of tying it to its bunk (which was a barrel cut in half, mounted on steel legs, and filled with feed).

The cow took off running through the field with the bunk still attached.

Nathan eventually caught up to the cow, but it was not a chase he will ever forget.

“Ide told Nathan that he learned a more valuable lesson that day than he could have ever planned,” Patty said.

In fact, the cow actually did Nathan a favor. Other children have had their cows do that at the fair, so it was better to learn the lesson at home, than the fair.

The Kuhlmannns still use the bunk, only now it is bolted to the wall.

Show time

Physics aside, Nathan discovered that he had an easier time training his 1,300-pound cow for the fair, than his 500-pound calf.

“Usually you are supposed to train in the calf first, and the cow will follow,” Nathan said. “But I had an easier time training in the cow.”

Nathan showed the cow/calf pair with his brother, Jonathan.

When they arrived at the McLeod County Fair, they set up an area for the cows by laying down wood chips.

Then, the beauty treatments began.

“The cow ends up looking like a teddy bear after working the hair over,” Patty said.

Nathan washed the cows, tied them up again, and dried them with a dryer.

“You want them to look big and fluffy,” Nathan said.

Then he clipped a little bit around the cow’s head and tail, but not too much, so the cow looked as big as possible.

While in the judging circle, Nathan tried to keep the cow’s feet lined up with good posture.

“You want to keep the head as high as possible,” Nathan said.

Then, Nathan led the cow in front while his brother led the calf behind them.

At the McLeod fair, the brothers only faced one other cow/calf pair before taking home grand champion.

At the state fair, there were 15 other teams, but that wasn’t all that changed.

“There is a lot of difference between the county and state fairs,” Mark said.

The competition starts to heat up at the state fair, as people from all over the state come to show their animals, Patty said.

Advice for next year: relax

Showmanship is the category where the judges evaluate the trainer more than the animal. They pay close attention to the trainer’s ability to control the animal, present both himself and the animal, and his overall demeanor.

Nathan practiced his technique and was careful to keep his eye on the judge during the showmanship competition – careful to a fault.

“I was actually a little nervous and I kept my eye on the judge too much,” Nathan said. After being awarded the reserve champion at the McLeod County Fair, the judge told Nathan if he would have relaxed a little more, he would have been grand champion.

Gearing up for next year

When asked what his proudest moment was, Nathan did not hesitate to answer, and it had nothing to do with the judging.

“The day I could lead them, it took two weeks,” Nathan said. Although this was Nathan’s first year showing beef cows, he and his family have shown chickens, ducks, dairy cows, rabbits, and horses.

Nathan’s thirst for learning apparently not quenched yet, he has decided to show goats at this year’s fair.

“He keeps trying new categories,” Patty said.

But Nathan will not abandon his cows. He plans to show the calf he showed last year as a yearling heifer this year, along with showing another cow/calf pair.

“It was a lot of fun, I’m anxious to do it again next year,” Nathan said.

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