April 14, 2024

Chicago students show steers at Beef Expo

Ava McCarthy (on right) uses a blower to dry one of the steers the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences students showed during the Illinois Beef Expo. This was the first show the Cattle Club competed at which also included members Dylan McKee (from left) and Destiny Perez.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Almost 500 junior exhibitors from across the state traveled to the Illinois Beef Expo to exhibit their steers and heifers, including students from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.

Members of the CHSAS Cattle Club showed two crossbred steers at the expo. “This is our first show,” said Katie McMahon, animal science teacher at CHSAS. “I have seven kids on the team including sophomores, juniors and seniors, but I have many more interested.”

The high school has a farm-to-table program with a local restaurant. “Neil Byers at Horse Thief Hollow acquires the cattle and the students learn how to raise and finish them,” the CHSAS teacher said. “This year, the school had the opportunity to acquire our own cattle and we are showing them at the expo.”

In November, McMahon casually mentioned to the kids about the opportunity to participate in a cattle show. “Right away, all the kids were interested and they have been spending two and half hours during the week and from four to five hours on the weekends working with the cattle.”

Dylan McKee, a high school senior showed Buzz at the expo. “I’ve seen people show all types of animals but this will be my first time,” he said. “I’m really excited to show but I’m a little nervous so I’m hoping he is good for the show.”

McKee’s interest in the cattle club at CHSAS was sparked by Luke Allen, agricultural education program adviser for Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Educators. “I took a job shadow with Mr. Allen and we visited a few ag teachers,” he explained. “We talked about showing cattle when he was younger and it sounded so interesting.”

The young exhibitor enjoys working with animals. “Mr. Allen is the whole reason I asked to join the club,” McKee said. “I think this is awesome and I never thought these big animals would be docile.”

After graduation this spring, McKee is considering attending either the University of Illinois or Illinois State University. “If I go to U of I, I’ll study animal sciences to be a vet,” he explained. “I like working with cattle more than dogs, so I’m thinking about a large animal veterinarian but if I go to Illinois State I’ll study ag ed to become an ag teacher.”

McMahon said it has been interesting to watch the kids grow in confidence while working with the cattle. “The seniors take the sophomores and juniors under their wing and it gives the underclassmen something to look forward to,” she explained. “It also sets the expectation that if you work really hard you can experience cool things like this.”

The students have learned how to work with the cattle in a variety of ways. “Luke has come in every three weeks and given us tips and tricks,” the FFA adviser said. “We’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos and the Extensions have showmanship books that teach things like where to stand and how to hold a show stick.”

The Beef Expo show, McMahon said, will probably be the most stressful show for the group of students due to the unknown. “They are not sure of the routine so I told them every time they show, it will be easier,” she said.

“We’re here to go through the experience and learn more about this industry,” Allen said. “It’s not about winning, we’re not expecting to win.”

The CHSAS students plan to show the steers at a few more events this year. “We’re hoping to go to the Sandwich Fair and the Kankakee and Will county fairs are on our radar,” McMahon said.

Senior students in the cattle club are the project managers, the FFA adviser said, and they will be creating a standard operating procedure or a cattle show how to manual for the underclassmen to use. “The goal is to have multilevel student involvement,” she added.

“We are also thinking about doing clinics for any student interested in showing cattle,” McMahon said. “That would include skills like haltering, grooming, washing, walking the animals and showmanship skills.”

Eventually, CHSAS would like to branch into other species. “The school gets a pregnant sow every year to learn farrowing and piglet processing,” the animal science teacher said. “So that may be another great opportunity to incorporate hog showing.”

In addition to the show, the CHSAS students competed in the Beef Skill-a-Thon contest at the expo. “All of these kids are on my Vet Science and Livestock Evaluation teams,” McMahon said. “We’re excited for the state Vet Science competition next week.”

Ava McCarthy showed Pinky at the Illinois Beef Expo. “Ava was a freshman the first year I was an ag teacher and FFA adviser,” McMahon noted. “She joined both of CDE teams and has competed all four years at the state level so when I think of my teaching journey, I think of Ava.

“This is such a great group of kids,” McMahon stressed.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor