11/16/2017 5 Comments
The North American International Livestock Exposition is wrapping up and as is customary, my newsfeed is filled with pictures from the green shavings.
There's an emerging theme to this year's photos and posts- one of emptiness. The show introduced a new, shortened schedule for the first time in years, drastically reducing the number of animals and people that held over to the end.
Those exhibitors still left are posting pictures of empty barn aisles and vacant ringside seats, even while Supreme Champions are being selected.
One of my fondest memories growing up is the yearly trip I took with my dad and brother to the Ohio Suffolk Sale. Back then, a sale was more than just a sale and there were no computers involved. We met people. We went to dinner with people, we socialized. We made lifelong friends.
We actually talked to the breeders of the stock we wanted to buy. I remember one of the top breeders in the country hoping into a pen of ewe lambs with me to help me handle and sort through their differences. I learned more in ten minutes watching him than I could learn in ten hours watching online sales.
The social experience of that sale - and all the other shows and sales - was the driver behind us returning to the show ring year after year.
In fact, it was at a sheep show in Laramie, WY, where I first met a Missouri farm boy that would change my life forever.
When I followed him to college, my sheep came too. We started showing at multiple state fairs, sleeping in barns or the trailer, occasionally a Red Roof Inn.
We spent a few years chasing banners this way, always wrapping the year up with a grueling, exhausting long-week in Louisville, KY.
We loved every second. My 20 year old self couldn't imagine anything more important. And I swore that lifestyle would never change.
And then... it did.
We graduated. We returned to his family farm. He started farming for a living in a state where the crop is rarely out by early November. I started a career where all chaos sets in in early November. Within a few years we threw a few kids into the mix.
And before I realized it, years had passed and we hadn't been there. We hadn't walked on those green shavings because our schedules just couldn't make it work. We visited for a day or two. We even sent one or two down if they were good enough to justify the cost of paying someone else. But we both knew we would never be able to do the entire thing again.
And then, this year, the schedule changed. We became aware a little too late for a big change this year, but a small fire was lit back inside. It was like we were being invited back in.
Like someone said, "It's OK if you can't make the whole thing, we still want you to come and compete. We still want to include you."
Now don't misunderstand me. The pictures of empty barns and vacant seats are crushing to me. I hate that someone might be handed that purple banner in a Supreme Drive with only a faint echo of applause.
But, I love that it gives so many families a chance to be apart of it once again. I love that show and sale organizers are recognizing that costs have increased and schedules are more demanding and this new world we live in is different than it was 50 years ago.
I applaud them for attempting to try something new to revitalize the events that make our industry what it is.
Now we have some major challenges. As a culture we have shifted to an experienced based mindset. We have no choice but to continue to make an experience unparalleled to anything someone can get at home. We have to do everything we can to foster those relationships, mentorships and family bonding time. And we have to do it in less time, with more packed schedules, than we have ever done it before.
That means our sales, and our shows, are going to look and feel different. Or at least, if we are going to stay relevant they are.
My heart aches that my boys will not ever experience the exhilarating, exhausting 10 day run known to so many of us simply as "Louisville".
But on the other hand, I am confident that our industry will collectively come together to create an elevated experience that better aligns with the world we live in.
And maybe that new experience will find a way to exclude the "Louisville crud". Although on that I am less optimistic.
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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