The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, July 15, 2018

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, July 15, 2018

This being fair season, we tracked down 10 local animal lovers photographed as kids through the years by The News-Gazette and asked them to tell us about the most memorable animal they ever showed.

Shown here: Just before the 4-H auction at 2005 Champaign Co. Fair

"Showing pigs was such a big part of my childhood and taught me countless valuable life lessons. My favorite pig I raised and showed was named Princess, a Hampshire. I remember that she loved to eat ice cubes, get belly rubs and lick my boots.

"In the spring before going to any shows, we would go on walks around the barn yard. A lot of the time, the pigs loved to run as soon as they are out of the gate and go hog wild, for a lack of a better term. Not this one. She was so tame from the start and would follow me around everywhere, probably thinking I had more ice cubes for her.

"When you're a 9-year-old farm kid and think you're the pig whisperer, life is good."

Shown here: With Raja the rabbit at 2002 Vermilion Co. Fair

"One year, I decided for fun: Hey, why not show our cat, see what happens and kill some time. He was a big, orange tabby cat who would sleep all day and prowl outside in the woods all night. We lived back in the woods.

"When we get to the fair, I see everyone else prepping their cats — brushing them, trimming their nails and fluffing them up. So I open the carrier door and — poof — there goes my cat, straight up the pole of the barn and into the loudspeaker. My reaction: Well, how am I ever going to get him down? Luckily, someone running that barn had seen it happen and helped coax him down.

"Now it's show time. All the judges were much, much older ladies. I'm thinking: OK, we got this. Everything is going smooth. He's being looked at, questions are being asked of him. So it comes down to my cat and one other cat — both big tom cats — for grand champion.

"You can probably see where this is going. The two cats definitely weren't happy being on the same table. One of the judges grabs my cat by its front paws and drags him over to her and he starts hissing — ears pinned back, meowing, like he's ready to go. My parents were in the stands trying not to make eye contact. Like, nope, that's not our cat.

"We ended up with reserve champion — all because he hissed at the older lady."

Shown here: At 2004 Vermilion Co. Fair

"Over the years, my family has shown a lot of cattle — heifers, bulls, steers. My favorite has to be Maggie, one of the first heifers I ever showed — and one of the best.

"She was a pushy, stubborn heifer but once she got in the show ring, it was all business. It's a unique bond between a person and the animal they show. There has to be absolute trust and a willingness to work as a team with a 1,300-pound animal.

"Maggie taught me that in order to be successful showing cattle, I had to work for it. It's one of the best lessons I've ever learned.

"Showing cattle has provided me with the opportunity to meet tremendous people, travel the country, and has led me to the career I have today. I'm thankful for each and every animal I showed, and I can only hope that I can help another 4H'er fall in love with this industry like I did."

Shown here: At 2006 Vermilion Co. Fair

"My favorite memory would be when me and my pony, Pokey, won poles in the under-13 division. That's her in the picture.

"What made it special was that I was only 8, and my little pony and myself beat everyone else."

Shown here: At 2002 Vermilion Co. Fair atop Pokey, which she sold to Bridget Cox (above)

"The pony pictured — Pocohantas, aka Pokie — was such a great little pony. I used to pick grass with my hands and feed to her from a bucket because she couldn't be out on pasture. Whenever we took her anywhere, kids would line up wanting pony rides.

"She did every event I wanted her to do, although none very quickly. I begged my dad to let me run her in the speed show. He always let me enter, even though I had no chance of winning. She was so much fun."

Shown here: With pal Jake Froelich at 2007 Ford Co. Fair

"The more I thought about everyone we competed against or shared memories with, the more I realized there has always been one person who is my favorite, and best show mate — my sister, Brittany.

"Brittany and I are only a little over a year apart in age, so at the time we didn't exactly get along the greatest, but during the shows we'd do our best to suck it up for our dad's sake. The thing about our relationship involving pigs is that we always found a way to make it fun and competitive.

"Brittany showed Poland breed pigs; I'd show Duroc breed. Even though I know she never wanted anything to do with my pigs, she was always willing to step up and help. I remember scraping the cement in the hog barn on a hot summer day, then we'd climb into the hay loft and swing on the rope or just lay there and relax.

"Another job that was never fun was clipping the pigs. They would always try to smash us into the gate or run in circles, but Brittany would hold the hose to give them some water so they'd stand in one spot while I clipped a tough area."

Shown here: At 2011 Farmer City Fair

"I grew up in a family with three boys, which makes for a very competitive environment. Like any oldest sibling, my brother never let us win at anything.

"However, at the junior national show in Maryland in 2004, I found out just how nice it was to best him. I was picked for fifth in class, and he was seventh. By the time the judge was done, I had moved to third and he stayed at his humbling seventh placing.

"Though it didn't happen again that summer or with that same heifer, I really enjoyed the bragging rights she allotted me. She became a great producer for our herd later, and had proven to be an even better cow than she was a show heifer."

Shown here: With Sunshine at 2007 Champaign Co. Fair

"One of the greatest blessings in my life has been being raised around farm animals. I had daily chores and responsibilities, which taught me more lessons than I can count.

"By far, the favorite cow I have ever shown is names Cosmo, who is a Holstein. She is spirited, loves to be the center of attention and is extra playful — even though she is a massive cow."

Shown here: At left, with pals Laney Randall and Kelsy Gosda, at 2003 Piatt Co. Fair

"In the fall of 2016, I purchased a purebred Angus heifer that I named Anna Marie. She showed all over the country as a heifer.

"This past spring, after Anna Marie had a heifer calf, I decided I'd show the two together as a cow/calf pair. It was so easy to want to continue to show Anna Marie due to her unique personality.

"When she was a young heifer, she was very stubborn, spoiled and had very large ears. But she has always been a sweet animal and a female that shows herself off every time we compete. She still has her big ears and likes to hit us with them when she is feeling sassy. Anna Marie was truly born to be a show cow — and she knows it."

Shown here: At 2006 Georgetown Fair

"Right before the greased pig contest, I was talking to my dad and asking him, 'What if I hurt the pig — or even kill it?' And Dad assured me I would not hurt the pig and all I had to do was imagine the pig had a football and I had to stop it from scoring. After that, it was game on.

"My favorite memory about showing was probably winning champion angus steer all three days in 2009. Showing cattle really instilled a you-get-what-you-work-for mentality that I carry with me today. If you want to do well at the show, you have to make sure your animal is fed at the same times every day, make sure they are broke to lead and comfortable with you — not to mention the countless hours of blowing and combing the fur so it flows just right.

"I loved showing cattle and if it were up to me, I think every kid should have an animal that they take care of and work with just because of what it teaches you as far as Work ethic and responsibility.

"I hope to one day watch my kids do the same."

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