March 2008
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Autauga Agribition Focuses on Developing Successful Youth

By Grace Smith

What started, eight years ago, as a bright idea between four Central Alabama cattlemen has turned into a multifaceted event, attracting young people from all over the state to the small town of Autaugaville.

The idea began on a cattle scouting trip out West. Beef producers Van Smith, Don Whorton, Chase Riddle and Wayne Summerlin spent the three-day road trip to Oklahoma discussing the development of a steer and heifer show in Autauga County.

"We decided we wanted to have a livestock show that would be beneficial to young people," Smith, the show superintendent, said. "We wanted it to have a relaxed atmosphere were exhibitors wouldn’t have to pay a large entry fee. We envisioned a show were all showmen would feel successful in their livestock projects rather than making only two to four showmen feel superior with their projects."

Six months later the Autauga Agribition was born with each of those ideals in mind. Initially the event began as simply a calf show and Agri-Knowledge Competition. But over the eight years since its establishment, some additions have been made to the event. This year’s event continued its traditions of an outstanding calf show and Agri-Knowledge competition, but hosted two other agricultural youth opportunities.

"Each year we’ve tried to add items of interest to exhibitors as well as cattle producers across the state," Smith said. "Some years have been more successful than others. One of the most aggressive moves we’ve made was to add a second species and include a goat show to the annual event. The cattle grooming competition was added in 2007 and we feel it is an important addition because it really demonstrates the exhibitors’ ability to appropriately prepare their calf for the show ring."

The Agribition began on Friday night, February 1, with a cattle weigh-in and the goat show. By 5:00, Autaugaville’s Kirkpatrick Arena was bustling with young people, their livestock projects and their parents.

After the cattle were weighed-in and supper had been served, the grooming competition began. This event, gave steer and heifer exhibitors the opportunity to show the judge their talent for raising show cattle goes far beyond the show ring. Calves were entered in the competition as simply washed and dried. Then competing three-member teams were given thirty minutes to groom a calf to "show ready." The judge selects the winners based not only on the quality of the grooming job, but also on each team member’s involvement. Smith said it was important the team emphasized the calf’s best traits while downplaying its weaknesses in order to be successful in this particular competition.

Long after the weigh-in and grooming competition had been completed, the goat show was still in full swing. This show has become highly popular and this year was no exception. With approximately 75 showmen exhibiting 180 meat and dairy goats, the Friday night event didn’t conclude until after midnight.

Saturday morning was an early one for those goat showmen who were participating in the Agri-Knowledge Competition which began at 9 a.m. This event tests young people’s knowledge of various agricultural facets. Competition topics included a multiple-choice exam and identification of legumes, forages, meat cuts and cattle breeds.

Following the Agri-Knowledge Competition, the steer and heifer show began at 10:30 a.m. This year, the calf show consisted of 24 steers and 66 heifers with more than 40 showmen participating. The show judge, Todd Schultz of Georgia, spent five hours narrowing down the competition until the champion and reserve champion steer and heifer were selected.

The end of the day marked another successful year for the Autauga Agribition and Smith hopes there will be many more successful years to come. He added future Agribitions may grow to include shows for even more species. But he said one thing is for sure, the focus of the event will continue to be "developing successful youth."

"Agricultural events like this one help young people to develop a work ethic, to learn responsibility, to take pride in the work they’ve done and to develop lasting friendships," Smith said. "I’ve seen so many individuals who have come through the show ring and now work for the ag industry. That’s really the key to this; developing young people to be successful adults."

Grace Smith is an associate editor for AFC Cooperative Farming News.