The students competed in two different classes, the showmanship class and the livestock class. During the showmanship class, exhibitors are judged on their ability to present the animal and themselves, as well as the level of teamwork displayed between the duo. The cattle in the show are judged during the livestock class for breed characteristics and sound structural features, which are beneficial for breeding.
Many of the young exhibitors live on farms but not all of them. Some of the students have sponsors who cover all the costs of maintaining the animal and the entry fees into the shows. There is quite an expense involved in competing but most sponsors view this as making an investment in the future. Connie Collier taught at Cass High School for 34 years and was a 40-year mentor of students in the FFA. Collier was also the first female livestock judge at a show in Chicago and the first female inducted into the Georgia Agriculture Education Hall of Fame. She said, “If we don’t keep promoting youth in agriculture and livestock, we won’t have anyone to run our farms in the coming years. If we lose small farms, we lose what it’s all about. We need to continue to promote 4-H and FFA. We have less and less kids joining.”
Competition was not the only reason Whitney Wills, 13, of Dalton, attended the show. The winner of her age division and an avid exhibitor, she has been showing goats and cattle since fourth grade. For the Willses this is a family affair; on their 200-acre farm they raise cattle for beef production.
Wills and her brother, Justin, 19, both agree that agricultural-focused activities are important for children and teens. Justin Wills said, “Groups likes 4-H and FFA offer wonderful experiences for children. I learned so much from my time I spent in them, along with what I learned on our farm. It teaches you how to care for another living thing, teaches you respect for life, responsibility, a good work ethic and how to be a leader.”
The Willses, who have four generations of cattle producers in the family, are concerned about the future of the industry. “In the U.S., cattle production has decreased. We are at the same numbers that we had back in the ’50s,” said Justin Wills, who is also the vice president of the Northwest Georgia Cattleman’s Association. “There are a lot of reasons for the low numbers; a big one is the high cost of everything needed to maintain the farm. For example, my grandfather bought a truck in 2003 and it used to cost him about $40 to fill the tank and now I drive that truck. It costs me $130 to fill the tank. Everything from feed, fencing supplies and land prices are so much higher than in years past.”
The Willses know many people who are selling their farms and leaving the business; with the rising costs it is easier for some to sell the farm than to continue on. Wills’ grandfather is dedicated to keeping his farm running for his grandchildren and hopefully many more generations.