The Bond Between a Future Farmer and a Show Cow

Tommie is my real first name. My parents thought I was going to be a boy, all the way up until I was born. So they just stuck with it.

Photos by Megan Monday

Tommie Loken | Mineral Point, WI

“I grew up here in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. It’s a very small town, a very close community, I would say. Everyone’s got your back if you need help with something.

In sixth grade, I started showing pigs at the fair. We would raise pigs from babies until county fair time.

It’s harder to bond with pigs because they’re just never going to like you. They always ran away. They’ll stand there and they like you to scratch them, but that’s about it.

I told my dad I really wanted to show a cow, and he’s like, ‘Well, let’s start with a steer.’ So my first show cow was a steer. He was the perfect steer, I saw him and immediately I knew I wanted him. His name was Goober; he was a very humble animal. He was like a dog. He would follow me everywhere.

He was very patient; I would set him up and I could walk in front of him, to the side, to see how he looked. He just stood there the whole time. He loved being scratched. I could even lay on him. I have pictures of me at the county fair, sleeping on him.

At the fair, the cows get sold in the auction. After I showed him, that night, he got sold. I went and I hugged him and I cried a lot. Two days later, a Monday morning, Labor Day, the truck and trailer comes to pick up the animals to take them to the slaughterhouse. This man comes with a clipboard, it’s so terrible, it’s the worst vision ever. He comes with a clipboard and goes, ‘This one, this one, this one, and this one.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ll probably be second trailer or third trailer.’ Nope, mine was the first animal to get loaded on the trailer.

Most kids had their parents lead their cow on, but I didn't want that. I wanted to be the tough person to lead my own animal on the trailer.

Once all the animals are loaded, you’re outside the trailer holding their halters. You take the halter off, and that’s the last time you see them, and I couldn’t take my halter off, because I was hysterical. It was so bad, but I did it, I got it off, and I just went back and set the halter down and just sat there and cried for a little while.

I’ve had dogs that have passed away, died and got ran over, but I think I was more bonded with my cow than many of my dogs, just because I had put so much effort into it. But at the same time, I knew all along that he was going to be auctioned at the fair. I had already bought my own heifer to show the next year, so by the time I got home I was feeling a little better.”

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“After I showed my first steer, I bought my own heifer. A heifer is a female calf who has not been bred yet. My heifer’s very sassy and spunky.

When you start with a calf, you have to halter break them. The halter is like a leash for a cow, basically. That’s probably the hardest part, because obviously they don’t want you to drag them around. Eventually they learn to lead from you, but it takes a lot of work.

Every morning and night I wash her to keep her hair growing, because you want nice long hair when you show the animal. We even keep my heifer in a ‘cooler room’ with fans in the summer before the fair so that she’ll never get too hot and will continue to grow her hair.

It's an awesome feeling to have gained the trust of this giant 1,500 pound animal. She trusts me to do all these things with her and I can trust her, as well. It’s just such a cool experience.

We decided before the fair this year that we wanted to breed my heifer. A guy that works for my dad can breed cattle as well, and he’s like, ‘No guarantees it’s going to work,’ but we did everything right and stuck to our times.

We got her home about a week after the fair; we had the vet come out and check her. The vet’s standing there and checking her and we’re talking and she’s like, ‘Oh, she’s definitely pregnant,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness!’ I was so happy, I was super ecstatic. I called my dad right away and told him. I was like, ‘We’re going to have a baby!’ It was totally weird, but exciting. The calf will be born in April. It takes about 285 days. She’s pregnant with a girl.

In the past we just had this one pasture where we would buy 15 or 20 cows, put them out there, but we would sell them every fall instead of wintering them. Now I’m able to keep my own heifers year-round because they are my show animals. I am so grateful.” 

“I’m really involved with Future Farmers of America, which is a national organization. In order to have an FFA program, you have to have agriculture classes within your school. It was kind of expected of me to get involved in FFA. My dad was an officer, and so were my uncles. It was just kind of something everyone in our family did, so back in middle school I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll join.’

FFA thrives on making people good leaders, good speakers, helping people come out of their shell. It's not just for farming people, we have a bunch of city people. We have people that live on big dairy farms that milk 200-300 heads, and we have people who live in towns and have a goldfish, that's all they've got.

We do a lamb show in the spring, where people bring their animals in. We run that show. We also have these two little calves we raise through our class, and we also do a lot of speaking competitions.

My freshman year, I decided to run for FFA office. You get put on the ballot and you have to speak in front of the chapter about why you want to be an officer. We all vote on who we want for officers, but we don’t vote the position. Once you get elected as an officer, the six elected officers decide who they want in each position. This year I was selected by my fellow officers to be president of our FFA chapter. There’s a girl, we’re head-to-head in everything, so I was kind of surprised when they announced my name for president. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I actually got it,’ but I didn’t want to be like ‘Yes!’ I was just secretly super, super happy.

FFA has given me a lot of confidence. I was recently accepted to the University of Iowa State. I applied for animal science. I love interacting with people, so I am hoping to become a feed nutritionist. I want to go to farms, develop different types of protein rations for them to feed to their animals, stuff like that. I’m excited to build on everything I’ve learned here at school and FFA and take my next step.”

-Tommie | Mineral Point, WI

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