Students take livestock center stage

An on-campus showmanship competition drew more than 100 University competitors.

Freshman Jessica Johnson, left, competes in the Amateur Sheep Show Saturday during the Minnesota Royal in St. Paul.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Freshman Jessica Johnson, left, competes in the Amateur Sheep Show Saturday during the Minnesota Royal in St. Paul.

by Jill Jensen

Colby Voigt was âÄújust a city boyâÄù until about two weeks ago, when he began training with a sheep for two hours every day.
The mortuary science freshman was encouraged to enter the Minnesota Royal showmanship competition with members in his fraternity, Delta Theta Sigma, a professional agriculture organization.
He was among the more than 100 University of Minnesota students who vied to win one of the five showmanship competitions held Saturday at the St. Paul campus.
Participants only show University-owned livestock. The competition is a learning experience for University students who donâÄôt come from an agriculture background, the eventâÄôs chairman, Robert Westman, said. Those students who did grow up around livestock get a chance to show other animals or compete against their peers.
âÄúThe major thing I learned was humility,âÄù Voigt said. âÄúIâÄôve never done this before, and it really taught me to be humble.âÄù
The livestock showmanship competition is the premise upon which Minnesota Royal was founded in 1916. Justin Johnston, the assistant overall chairman of MNRoyal, called it the âÄúhomecoming of St. Paul campus.âÄù
Formerly known under different monikers like Ag Royal, Minnesota Royal solely featured a showmanship competition for several years, before other events, such as the milkmaid contest and Ag Olympics, were added.
Showmanship judges a participantâÄôs handling of an animal and knowledge of the industry, not necessarily the qualities of the beast.
âÄúShowmanship is a way to take someone who may not be able to afford the best genetics or the best animal, but they know what theyâÄôre doing, and they take a lot of pride in their project,âÄù Johnston said.
Students are separated into two categories: professionals, who have shown at the Minnesota State Fair or its equivalent, and amateurs, who learn about the industry and how to care for the animal from the professionals.
Freshman Jessica Johnson said she grew up on a beef farm, showing horses and beef cows âÄúpretty much since I was born.âÄù
Johnson, who won the amateur grand champion sheep competition, said a class in sheep production sparked her interest to compete.
For the past two weeks, she and other amateurs learned about the species of the animal they would show and how to control it.
Westman said SaturdayâÄôs competition was âÄúthe big one,âÄù because University alumni, as well as about 300 students, attend.
âÄúThe big picture of it is how well you can portray the animal âÄî how well you can show it off to make it look the best in the show ring,âÄù Westman said.
Caitlin Kasper won several purple ribbons at the State Fair for her dairy cows during high school, but this was her first year competing in the showmanship contest.
Kasper, a professional dairy showman, has been working with University cattle for more than two weeks, less than she normally would spend preparing her animal for show, she said.
Kasper, who grew up on a dairy farm in Owatonna, Minn., showed pigs at a young age but didnâÄôt âÄúactually take the halterâÄù of a cow until she was 14.
âÄúThe fun part is going to the barn with friends and working with your cattle,âÄù said Kasper, who is an agricultural education senior.
Participants showed either sheep, beef, dairy or swine. The top two competitors in each category continued on to an overall showmanship competition, one for amateurs and one for professionals.
Johnston said the winners earned points toward the organizations they represent. The overall winners of Minnesota Royal will be announced tonight.