Moh-Moh is nervous.
This Saturday is UC Davis’ Little International Stock Show, and Moh-Moh, a heifer, has never been around so many people and animals before.
But the student showing her likes his chances. “I think I will win. I really spend a lot of time with her, one on one,” said Michael Chao, an entrant in this year’s beef section.
Chao is one of 62 entrants in this year’s “Little I” stock show competition. The show was started in 1926 and continues to this day as a way of teaching students about animal production and showmanship.
“We have six categories of animal species that are judged: Hogs, Goats, Dairy, Beef, Sheep and Horses,” said Kirsten Thorburn, president of the Young Cattleman’s Association at UC Davis and one of this year’s event coordinators.
The event spans from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Cole facility on La Rue Road and Bioletti Way.
The competition represents a culmination of work from many areas of the UC Davis agricultural community.
Judges are UC Davis staff, students and alumni. Alpha Gamma Rho, UC Davis’ social and professional agricultural fraternity, will put on a barbecue for the event, while Sigma Alpha, an agricultural sorority, will volunteer.
“Little I doesn’t receive any funding from the school,” Thorburn explained. “It’s all community and sponsorship run.”
Thorburn has one main goal for the event.
“I hope that participants leave with a greater respect for the agricultural industry,” she said. “It’s too often the case nowadays that people don’t know where their food comes from.”
The competition begins when each entrant is judged in his chosen species section, and then the two winners from each section then enter a round robin, in which they are judged on showing all the species.
“Showmanship consists of three things,” explained Thorburn. “Knowledge of the animal, grooming and animal care and finally presentation of yourself.”
The winner of the round robin is awarded the honor of grand-champion. The victory is made all the more sweet by the fact that just a few months ago most of the entrants knew little in the way of livestock showmanship.
“The ‘Little I’ program is aimed at students with little or no experience with livestock,” Thorburn said.
“I myself didn’t grow up in agriculture,” Thorburn revealed. “I started as pre-med but after working at the campus’ livestock facilities I decided to enter the ‘Little I’ competition. When I did, it helped me find my true passion in life, and now I’m keen to pass it on to others.”
“Applications are open to all UC Davis students at the start of the year. They choose their species and then get taught weekly lessons in animal production and showmanship,” Thorburn added. “[Little I] teaches you about the animal, it teaches you about how to take care of the animal and it also teaches you how to present yourself to the judge.”
Each competitor is assigned an animal and can work with it as much as they like.
“They get to groom [the animal], style it, name it – really get that sense of personalization,” Thorburn said.
As an animal science major this feeds directly into his study, he explained, as animal showmanship is an important part of the industry.
“I entered mainly for fun, but also because I wanted experience in showing animals,” he said.
This Saturday’s event will be the climax of months of work put in by the contestants: Chao spends about four hours a week with his heifer, practicing in the stands.
However, Chao believes that sometimes no amount of hard work can turn an animal into a good performer.
“One girl had a crazy animal this year,” he explained.
“[The animal] just didn’t want to be handled by human beings,” he said. “Sometimes it can be in their genetics.”
Although the competition was open to all, Chao believes that it’s not something every student could do.
“Not everybody can take having manure on the face and hands,” he explained. “But for those interested in livestock, it’s a lot of fun.”
CHRISTOPHER BONE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.