When I was young, probably around 7 years old, I had finally graduated from being a 4-H cloverbud to an actual 4-H club member. Back then, cloverbuds were not allowed to show livestock. My county fair projects consisted of cardboard that was glued to something that I probably made little drawings on with scented markers. Needless to say, I was so excited to begin showing cows just like my big brother. (At this point, I don’t think my oldest brother was showing cattle yet. This was the first year the Kopperud’s showed beef cattle)
As I recall, Matt had been showing dairy cattle for a couple of years. He loved it. He loved the cow’s, the barns, and the sense of accomplishment. My parents loved the responsibility that we learned halter breaking a calf and all the other preparations that are needed to get the cattle ready for the show ring.
The day had come for us to pick our calves. My dad had rounded up all the calves that had been born on our small farm in Cottonwood County that year and locked them all in a pen. Dad made it clear that Matt would get first pick because he was older, and then I could choose next with help from my big brother.
Then I saw her, a wonderful little white face red Angus calf. I immediately closed my eyes and began to pray, “Oh Jesus, please don’t let him pick that one. I want her. Please, please, please…..” Fingers and toes crossed I anxiously waited for my brothers decision. I waited in agony while I listened to him “judge” all the calves like he was a professional. “Well, that one has nice hind quarters, but that one has a nice muscle tone through her body….” All I could think while he was talking is “Come on! Hurry up and pick already!” Of course, my only criteria for choosing my calf was that she was pretty and I wanted her. Who cares if I win or not?
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of listening to my brother weighing his chances at winning, he chose a little red white faced calf and named him “Charger”. It was finally my turn to choose, I jumped up on the fence and pointed at the little red white faced heifer with red around her eyes and screamed, “Dad, I want that one!”
Excitement flooded my soul as I watched my dad and my brother sort off the two calves from the others and proceeded to put blue rope halters on them. Then dad drug them both over to the side of the barn and tied them to a fence post. “Matt, you’re in charge. Help your sister and show her what to do” my dad said. I spent the next few days talking to, petting, feeding, and brushing my Chargette. (This was around the time the Westbrook Wildcats became the Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers. Yep, we were really cool.)
I’d like to think Matt had fun halter training my calf for me. I weighed less than 100 lbs and even that was all skin and bones. He would lead my calf to water, lead her around our drive way circle so she would know how to act in the show ring, he taught her how to stand with her hind legs wide but not too wide, and then he would tie her to the tractor by the water hose so I could wash her.
Washing cows in the hot Minnesota sun was actually enjoyable most days. I loved letting the water drip down the sides of Chargette’s body. I would run the hose slowly up and down her spinal cord and take delight in the way she would shiver. She would always be so relaxed when it came to bath time. Who wouldn’t like someone washing every part of their body and then scrubbing them down with dish soap?
Every day my brother would do the training and then I would do the washing. When Matt finally felt confident enough to let me walk her he stood next to me with the end of the lead rope in his hand. If she spooked he would still have a hold of her. And spook she did! I don’t recall ever leading her by myself. I always had one of my brothers or my dad at the end of that lead rope. They were my safety net.
A few weeks before the show it was time to “fit” the cattle. Basically, we would shave them in certain places to make them look clean and polished. We had a lot of help from other seasoned showman. The fact that my dad can make friends with anyone really benefited us kids. He had found a young man with all the equipment and the excitement to help us show our calves. We loaded Charger into the small grooming shoot first. I watched as Scott, the young man who was helping us, guided my brother in “fitting” Charger. Matt held the large clippers and shaved Charger’s head, belly, tail, and neck. Then it was my turn. Dad loaded Chargette into the grooming shoot and I grabbed the clippers. They were so large and heavy it was hard for me to maneuver them. I remember that Scott would help me hold the clippers and basically do the grooming for me while my hand just set on the clipper. He wanted me to learn, even if I wasn’t strong enough.
After weeks of preparation, it was time to head to the Cottonwood County Fair. Excitement filled our household as well as stress and a rush to get all of our non-livestock projects finished for judging the following day. I don’t know why, but we always waited for that final day to finish the other projects. We would all get up early and dress in our best attire to go through the judging/interview process. I had a photo and a sample of flowers from my flower garden in a vase, Matt would have some kind of wood working project, and Andy no doubt had some sort of super smart guy science project. My sister would come along but I believe she was still too little to enter projects. For some reason, I always remember that it would rain that morning. Not just raining, POURING. We would all run into the non-livestock project barn with our projects in hand doing our best to avoid getting mud all over our nice clothes. We would find the judging table and wait in line for our turn to be judged.
At the end of the day, it was time to go home and get the livestock. Not only did we have cattle but Andy and I would also show rabbits. My dad purchased an old homemade trailer from one of our neighbors. It was made of old plywood and old steel gates on a frame that was welded together. My dad would swing the back gate open and it was time to load. The calves went in first. Their blue lead ropes would be tied as high and tight as possible to avoid them moving around and injuring themselves. They would be packed in tightly against each other to ensure that movement wasn’t possible. Next would come a few straw and hay bales. Then the rabbits would be on top of those. After that, the big show box was loaded. My grandpa Truman made it for us kids. It was a large box probably a 3 feet by 4 feet cube. It was painted bright 4-H green and then Mom stenciled a white 4-H 4 leaf clover on the top. Who needs to buy a professional show box when you could make one? Inside we kept all of our materials we would need to wash the cattle along with spare clothes to wear. Giving a cow a bath is not a clean job. My mom would also pack sandwiches, snacks, and drinks for us so we wouldn’t go hungry in the days to come.
Matt with Charger. I believe Bek is trying to “show” Bingo our dog in the background. LOL!
Dad would drive the old truck to Windom, Minnesota. Under normal circumstances it would take 30 minutes, but with the trailer in tow and the bed of the truck full of bales we couldn’t drive as fast so it would take around 1-1/2 hours back to the fair grounds. Once we got there we would stop at the rabbit barn and drop off all the rabbits and their feed. Then head to the cattle barn. The calves would always be nervous after the long ride and all the other 4-Her’s would be unloading their cattle. It would be a little chaotic. My brothers lifted the bales and show box out of the back of the trailer. Then it was time for me to unload Chargette. She really didn’t like me leading her, or she just knew that if she jumped even a little bit I would give up and let go. When it was time to lead her off the trailer my dad knew she would probably freak out, then I would let go, and then he would spend the rest of the evening driving the streets of Windom looking for a lost calf. Sensing my paralyzing fear, my dad grabbed Chargette’s lead rope and led her to her pen for me and tied her there next to Charger. Matt then tied her with the second tie around her neck (all of the cattle had to be double tied) as I stood watching at the edge of the gate in the back of the pen.