Of the few truly important things in life, kids and livestock have to rank near the top.

A tow-headed youngster tugging on the halter of a reluctant Jersey heifer at the county fair is a familiar image, one that is repeated time and time again as subsequent generations take their turns in the arena, yet one that seldom fails to elicit empathic “Ohs” from the bleachers.

Whether they can verbalize it or not, the folks in the stands know the youngsters are dragging out more than a calf, or even their appreciative applause.  

Hope and promise beam from their faces.

Roots and tradition are knotted up in the end of their halter ropes.

Hard work and dedication are reflected in the sheen of their calves’ coats.

Pride starches their collars and creases their britches.

Diligence guides their calves around the arena and plants their feet squarely as they line up for the judge.

Modesty rules when the judge taps a calf and shakes his hand.  Even kids understand their inheritance, that the trophy they take home was not earned alone. 

Fair week newspapers carry several pages of pictures of these young livestock exhibitors, their animals and their trophies. I suppose, to some folks, the coverage might seem too extensive.  After all, as in all of agriculture, these boys and girls are a relatively small percentage of the total population.

But, also as in all of agriculture, they’re a mighty important minority.  Not only are they ambassadors of that 2% of us who feed the nation, they also are representative of the best crop that farmers produce — farm kids.

Little that we experience in these sweltering months between planting and harvest seasons embodies more American tradition, value, virtue and promise for the future than the pairing of youngsters and animals at a county fair. 

I first snapped pictures of area kids and their prize cattle, sheep and goats in 1976 and for many years afterward. One of the things I most enjoyed year-after-year was watching youngsters grow and mature.

Many whom I first photographed tugging on halters in the pee wee classes later posed for pictures of their grand champions.

And when one of those kids meticulously set up his or her grand champion cow for the photo, beamed a smile born of well-deserved pride and accomplishment, it seemed not only a duty, but a coveted privilege, to be able to snap that picture and put it in the newspaper.

Little front page news beats that of kids and calves.

Jim Hamilton is a freelance writer in Buffalo. Contact him at jhamilton000@centurytel.net. A version of this column previously published in the Buffalo Reflex. ©️ James E. Hamilton 2019.

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