Colby Voigt was “just a city boy” 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 don’t come from an agriculture background, the event’s chairman, Robert Westman, said. Those students who did grow up around livestock get a chance to show other animals or compete against their peers.
“The major thing I learned was humility,” Voigt said. “I’ve never done this before, and it really taught me to be humble.”
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 “homecoming of St. Paul campus.”
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 participant’s handling of an animal and knowledge of the industry, not necessarily the qualities of the beast.
“Showmanship is a way to take someone who may not be able to afford the best genetics or the best animal, but they know what they’re doing, and they take a lot of pride in their project,” 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 “pretty much since I was born.”
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 Saturday’s competition was “the big one,” because University alumni, as well as about 300 students, attend.
“The big picture of it is how well you can portray the animal — how well you can show it off to make it look the best in the show ring,” 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 didn’t “actually take the halter” of a cow until she was 14.
“The fun part is going to the barn with friends and working with your cattle,” 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.
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