April 2006
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For Young Nicole McLeod: Raising Top-Notch Show Steers Is All About the Feed

  According to Nicole, “It’s all in the feed,” and she insists that Scooter’s weight gain was due to his 12 pounds twice a day of Performance Co-op Beef Feed.
by Kellie Henderson

Nicole McLeod of Goshen may be young, but she could probably teach some farmers a thing or two about cattle. Nicole is 15 years old and a ninth grade student at Goshen High School. She says producing a top-notch show steer comes down to one basic element. According to her, "It’s all about the feed."

And Nicole knows. For the past two years, her show steers have had the greatest daily rate of gain in the state, and she says all the credit goes to the feed. At the state competition in Montgomery, March 8-12, she and her steer, Scooter, also walked away with two sixth place finishes: one for Nicole’s performance in Showmanship and another for Scooter in his weight division.

"Scooter gets 12 pounds of Co-op Performance Beef Feed and 2 pounds of hay, twice a day," says Nicole.

Scooter’s top weight was 1,230 pounds. The stress of showing often causes steers to lose some weight through the course of a show season, but Scooter still held on to an impressive 1,117 pounds during state competition, from a calf that weighed a mere 540 pounds in August of last year. With so much success in the show ring, some may be surprised to find that Nicole has only been showing cattle for two years.

"Last year I had a Black Angus steer named Bubba. I had a lot of fun showing last year, but Bubba was a handful. He would try to eat my shirt or my harness and number anytime he got the chance. Scooter has been much calmer than Bubba. Honestly, he’s been less trouble at home and on the go, but it’s still taken a lot of work," she says.

Nicole and Scooter rest after a long week of showing at the Garrertt Coliseum in Montgomery. During the hectic show schedule, exhibitors steal a break whenever they can.  
Nicole says she worked with Scooter about an hour and a half each day, walking him, getting him used to the show stick and teaching him to set up, or stand with his feet squarely beneath him.

"When you practice, you should feel like you’re in a show. I also had to wash and blow-dry him once a week to train his hair," Nicole added.

Nicole said she buys not only her feed from the Goshen Farmers Co-op, but the supplies she needs for grooming and showing as well. She appreciates how helpful the staff are and how much support they give her throughout the year.

Co-op manager Mike Thomas says he’s extremely proud of how well Nicole has done with her show steers and wants her achievements to be recognized by others. He also says Nicole doesn’t make it to the store every time she needs more feed for Scooter.

"Daddy won’t let me," Nicole said.

"He’s just afraid you’ll buy a whole lot more than the feed," Thomas joked.

Even though Nicole enjoys shopping at her local Co-op, she says the two most important elements for showing a steer can’t be bought at any store.

"Time and patience. You really need a lot of both if you want to show. Some days it may take twenty minutes just to catch the steer. And you can’t expect them to come around overnight. The first time you wash and dry them, they’ll try anything to get out of the chute, but eventually they come around. I had to wash Scooter every day at District and State in Montgomery, and as soon as I’d finish, he’d head for this huge pile of shavings and get dusty again. But I like wash time. It’s just me and my cow," Nicole said.

Nicole says the time and effort required for having a show steer are far outweighed by the rewards.

"Showing has definitely made me more mature. Even the young kids that show are more mature than some high school students. It takes a lot of responsibility to care for an animal, getting and keeping it in show condition. And my parents have definitely made sure I knew I was responsible. ‘You made the decision to show, so you do the work,’ they say. And they mean it," Nicole said.

Nicole’s parents, Kelvin and Faye Thomas of Goshen, are very supportive of Nicole’s showing. And while they do intend for her show experience to teach her responsi-bility, her father has helped her.

"I like them all," Nicole says of selecting a show calf from a herd of prospects.

"Daddy has to help make the decision. And I never go near Scooter with the clippers. I know I would gap his hair up," Nicole admits.

In addition to her parents and her Co-op, Nicole says she also appre-ciates the encouragement of her sponsor, Jimmy Shaver of Goshen, and the assistance of her Ag teacher and FFA sponsor, Rusty Yoemans.

Mr. Yoemans says the Goshen Farmers Co-op is always supportive of the Ag and FFA programs at Goshen High School, not just to the livestock projects.

"The Co-op has helped us with our livestock projects, but they also help us with horticulture products, and funding to take our students to the National FFA Convention every year. Mike Thomas and the Co-op really help us with everything; funding, supplies, or whatever, with a discount if not an outright donation," says Yoemans.

Yoemans also said that Nicole and Scooter are just a reflection of the changes he’s seen in his 15 years as an Ag teacher.

"Used to be, girls took Home Ec; boys took Ag. Now probably 30%-40% of my Ag students are girls, and four of our six FFA officers are girls. Nicole is this year’s Reporter for the FFA. A few girls have expressed an interest in showing next year, and I hope the success Nicole and Scooter have seen will continue to generate more interest in agriculture among the young people in our community," Yoemans said.

Nicole says that she would like to continue showing cattle and even branch out into hogs as well. After high school, she plans to pursue a degree in Animal Science at Auburn University and eventually have her own cattle farm, producing stock for the next generation of exhibitors. She said she also thinks about becoming a barrel racer.

In addition to agriculture, Nicole enjoys softball and she is a member of the GHS volleyball team, Student Government Association, Pep Club, and the Future Business Leaders of America.

Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.