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The finer points of showing cows

Tony Donnelly has a long history showing beef and dairy cattle at the Dakota County Fair.

Though we live in a community that has quite a few large family farms, there's very few of us who actually live on these farms. Very few of us who actually work with livestock.

But once the Dakota County Fair rolls around, almost every visitor has to stop into the barns. If not the cattle or sheep barns, for sure, a trip through the children's barnyard is in order. That's just what you do when you go to a fair.

There are quite a few kids around Dakota County who hang out in the barns, simply because it's what they do. They're the kids who show their livestock at the fair, the ones who have worked with the animals and are hoping to win a trip to the Minnesota State Fair.

On Monday, 19-year-old Tony Donnelly of the Donnelly Family Farms in Farmington talked a little about his years of showing cattle at the county fair. He showed open class dairy on Monday, and, as a member of the Chub Lake 4H club, 4-H dairy on Tuesday.

How long have you been showing at the Dakota County Fair?

I've been in 4-H for 13 years. I've been showing for about 10.

What do you show?

Dairy heifers and beef steer. Dairy and beef. I've shown a variety of things, but dairy and beef are my main ones.

Why do you show cattle?

I just kind of was born into it. I like showing. It's fun. You meet a lot of people.

So when you're doing this, what sort of things are the judges looking for?

Frame and structure of the cattle.

Frame and structure?

Yeah. There's many different things, but that's probably the main thing that will help people understand.

How do you prepare your cattle for the fair?

Dairy and beef are kind of different. You have to start by tying them up, probably at least a month in advance, to get them used to the halter and get them used to being walked around. And with a beef animal, you have to work their hair. Ours go into an air-conditioned area daily.

What's that?

You go into an air-conditioned room daily so their hair grows longer. You really want to know all this stuff?

Oh yeah. Totally.

OK. You comb it and brush it and condition it, and all that for the beef.

So you bring them into an air-conditioned room? What does that do?

Well it's like if it were winter out, their hair grows. It's the cold that helps their hair get longer, and you need long hair on beef cattle. Dairy you don't need any hair. You can shave it all off for dairy, but you want as much as you can for beef.

So how do you prepare yourself for the county fair?

Just get to know the cattle, really, so they're not scared and you work well together.

What's the highest place you've ever taken with an entry?

Reserve Champion. In market beef.

Have you ever won any trips to the state fair?

Yep. You can go every year after you complete sixth grade, and I've only missed two years.

So when you're at the state fair and they're judging, it is the same or different?

It's kind of different in ways. I mean, there's more animals, so it's a little harder. But other than that, they're all looking for the same thing.

I always see kids hanging out in the stalls at the fairs. What do you guys do around there?

Talk. I mean, talk to different people, talk to people who walk by, friends. Just sit there, kind of.

Do you have to be there for the animals at all?

Not really. You just have to check on them and feed and water them when they need it. But you don't have to be there. It looks better when you're there.

How long do you think you'll continue to participate in the fair?

I'll probably continue to show in some of the open class shows. This is my last year in 4-H, though. I'll compete in open shows, not only here, but in other fairs that are around.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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