In February of 2020, life for many people was flipped upside down.
With the first cases of covid-19 detected in the U.S., also came the closures and cancellations of many businesses, schools and extracurricular activities like FFA. As cases rose, these closures and cancellations became more and more common, including moving many events such as state and national conventions and competitions to an online platform. As summer and fall approached many livestock shows were also put on hold, from small county shows to national attractions such as the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo.
Throughout a year like 2020 making things so far from the norm, livestock and livestock shows were some of the only things that had remained intact, despite so many other activities being abandoned.
With cancellations like these came an outcry from the community who participated in them. While the cancellations had nothing but good intentions behind them, they brought immense consequences. The biggest of these was the financial loss suffered by livestock families.
Now, if you ask any family involved in showing livestock, they'll tell you they aren't in it for the money, which is undoubtedly true since the "cost of entry," like feed, bedding and actual entry fees. often far surpasses the payout most families receive. However, the reason so many people are willing to knowingly invest money with no expectation of a return is the experience and life lessons learned by the students who participate.
With so many shows being canceled not only were there extreme physical losses suffered in the livestock industry, money and animals, but there were arguably even greater intangible losses suffered as the students and families lost the experience and life lessons they would have gained.
However, in many cases there was somewhat of a consolation. Due to the cancellation of such large shows, such as the National Western and Fort Worth stock shows, many "make-up shows" were created to try and give participants the ability to at least have a chance to showcase the projects they had worked so diligently on and gain those intangible bonuses they otherwise would have lost. As overwhelming support came for the creators of these make up shows, so did the realization of many people about how important it was to keep as many things as normal as possible, particularly for students and kids. Keeping as many shows as possible open, even with added restrictions, would not only lift public morale but keep the opportunities for students to grow and succeed alive.
Locally, the largest county fair in the state of Arkansas was faced with the same tough decision that halted fairs and livestock exhibitions throughout the country. Should they cancel? Luckily for the youth of Washington County, many volunteers constructed a plan to keep everyone safe while still being able to participate in the yearly fair that so many of us had been anticipating.
This was not a normal fair by any means with no rides, vendors or public access, but it was still the time in the show ring that so many 4-H and FFA members in this county wanted and needed. After all the shows were complete, the community rallied around the exhibitors at the yearly premium sale and purchased over $200,000 worth of student livestock projects. It is volunteers like we have here in Washington County that have kept a sense of normalcy and hope alive for the youth of the livestock industry through this global pandemic.