On May 22, my two daughters, Eleanor, 5, and Charlotte, 2, and I called my mom and dad while we were eating breakfast for our daily morning FaceTime check in. We always like to see what is happening on the farm for the day before dispersing to daycare, school and work. That morning, they had exciting news for Eleanor. The 2-year-old cow, Astrid, who Eleanor had named and shown as a novice calf in 2019 had a heifer overnight. Eleanor immediately stopped eating and put down her cereal spoon as her eyes grew wide and a smile flashed to her face. She hopped down from her chair and did a little dance from excitement while letting out a few high gleeful squeals. The show season had started for her.
    From that moment, the show season for us progressed in steps. The first step was naming the newborn. When my parents asked Eleanor what they should call the calf, I thought she might need time to think about this important step. Without missing a beat, Eleanor shouted out, “Rainbow.” This is a perfect name for Eleanor to choose. She loves to draw using a variety of colors, with rainbows being one of her favorite items to illustrate. Now that the calf had a name, the excitement for Eleanor grew.
    Meeting Rainbow was our second step. Since we do not live on the farm, we have to plan when we visit my parents. I love these visits and the girls do, too, so much so that Charlotte calls out, “My farm!” whenever she sees the silos as we drive up. These visits allow us the chance to see the cows and help Grandma with calf chores. Plus, Eleanor always likes the chance of riding with Papa in the tractor or on the side-by-side. The day we met Rainbow came with particular excitement as Eleanor officially claimed Rainbow as her own. We got all the details from my mom, the main calf feeder, on how Rainbow was doing while we helped put fresh bottles of milk in the holders for the calves’ evening feeding. Of course, we then had to take time to pet Rainbow, allow her to suck our fingers and take a few pictures with her.
    The next step was actually a step back from the farm. This summer, Eleanor participated on her first organized sports team. T-ball took up a few evenings each week, which led to prioritizing learning the game and participating with her team over helping in the calf barn. She liked learning the basics of playing on the ball diamond and had fun playing on the same team as her cousin, Hattie. When we looked at the game schedule, I noticed her last game was the same night as the open show at the county fair when Eleanor would show Rainbow. Wanting her to make her own decision, I asked Eleanor whether she would rather play in her T-ball game or show Rainbow at the fair.
    “I want to show Rainbow because that is the only time I will get to show her,” Eleanor said excitedly.
    My dairy-loving heart swelled at her choosing to show her calf.  
    In July, we got back to the barn to start training Rainbow for the fair. As the youngest calf in the Sheeknoll Farms show string (she was weaned just a few days before fair time), Rainbow did well adjusting to the halter and the showing life. Eleanor also did well adjusting to being on the halter of an animal. The last time Eleanor showed a calf two years ago, I did most of the calf maneuvering with Eleanor holding on to the end. This year, we switched. I held the end of the halter, and Eleanor practiced being at the lead. At first, Eleanor was a little scared since she didn’t know how to make Rainbow stop when she wanted her to. When I showed Eleanor how to gently but firmly pull back on the halter, she tried it for the next circle around the lawn. When she successfully made Rainbow stop on the first try, she quickly turned around to share her smile and excitement of being able to handle her animal.
    The day of the show, going to the fair to show Rainbow is all the girls could talk about. Eleanor and I went early to prepare for the event. We were greeted by Eleanor’s two cousins, Hattie and Elena, who were also showing in the same class as Eleanor. There were so many giggles, smiles and nonstop talking.
    Although we had to wait a bit outside the ring, the time finally came for Eleanor to debut her skills. She confidently took the halter and paraded Rainbow around the ring with me hanging on to the end. For one circle, Charlotte even joined us. Eleanor proudly answered all the questions the judges and the dairy princesses asked her. And for her efforts after pulling Rainbow into the final lineup, Eleanor received a ribbon. Again, I could see her excitement expressed through her large grin.  
    Maybe to some, the novice calf class is just a cute array of the youngest calves and kids. While it is, I think it’s important to remember the excitement these kids show and experience is a spark that can keep them coming back to the industry. While my kids don’t live on a farm, having the chance to show a calf gives us more accessibility for them to be involved. Even if later in life they are not in the industry, they at least have that experience and excitement first instilled in them when showing a calf at the county fair.