Showdown series gives Allamakee County livestock champions an additional opportunity to show their animals, have hard work and dedication recognized

Showin’ up for the Showdown ... Five Allamakee County 4-H youth participated in the Northeast Iowa Showdown livestock show held August 2 in West Union as part of a statewide Showdown series that offers additional showing opportunities to county fair champions. Pictured above, left to right, are Wyatt Baxter, Brenna Berns, Taylor Jackson, Alaina Gebel and Marcus Gebel. Submitted photo.

by David M. Johnson

As thousands of local, rural youth walk out the school door each spring, they once more anticipate their yearly summer routines. Meeting at the local fishing hole, little league, and hoping to get a summer job for some extra spending money are likely among those summer activities.

Also among those annual rites of passage, especially in the smaller rural communities that dot the landscape, the county fair is one destination where numerous families set aside one week during the summer so their kids can be part of this rural heritage.

As part of the county fair there are several classes of animals that may be shown in a competitive nature that award the classic ribbons and trophies, and at the end of the fair is the livestock auction that often closes the curtain on another fair, and another year. Some exhibitors may go on to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines and show later in the summer, and many of the dairy and beef will participate in regional and national shows that have become part of the landscape of the show universe.

A more recent entry into the annual livestock show mix not only allows for additional show possibilities for county fair youth, but also draws directly from those county fairs. The All Iowa Showdown is a competition with a unique angle in the county fair to State Fair journey for livestock shows that, in addition to continuing to put the animals on display, also focuses much more on the youth displaying those animals.

The statewide All Iowa Showdown began in 2005 and has continued to grow to now include 10 districts and all 99 counties across the state of Iowa. Allamakee County most recently joined the Northeast Iowa District in that Showdown series just within the past two years, the last of the eight counties in that district to do so.

The progression for local youth from their county fairs involves the Grand Champion market and breeding animal in each category of beef, swine, sheep and goats being invited to the district show. At that district show, each county fair champion competes against other county fair champions representing each of the four different species that qualify. Should the county fair champion elect not to compete at the district show, the reserve champion will then be invited to show.

After joining the Northeast Iowa District a couple years ago, Allamakee County Fair champions now join other fair champions at the annual Northeast Iowa Showdown from seven other counties in northeast Iowa that include Black Hawk, Bremer, Clayton, Chickasaw, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties. The winner for each species class then moves on to compete at the All Iowa Showdown among winners from the nine other district shows held throughout the state of Iowa.

Dana Cota of Harpers Ferry was asked to jump start the Allamakee County involvement into this endeavor in 2017. She was asked to encourage both 4-H and FFA kids that participate in the Allamakee County Fair animal show competition in the four large market livestock classes to consider being representatives of the county in the regional show. Last year was the first for Allamakee County representatives to take part in the regional competition, as Tucker Jackson, son of Joe and Sarah Jackson of Waukon, showed his Grand Champion Breeding Beef from the Allamakee County Fair at the 2019 Northeast Iowa Showdown.

Sarah Jackson explained that not only do the kids compete to go further on in the Showdown series, but there are also prizes and awards given to the kids as well in recognition of their work and dedication in showing their animals. Those prizes are purchased through county level sponsorships raised in order to be able to participate at the district level. Sarah Jackson said that the county sponsorship level is $1,500, which is then pooled with other county sponsorships to help purchase the awards and prizes for the show participants. It is the support of local sponsors that help make these additional show opportunities possible for local youth.

At last year’s Northeast Iowa Showdown, Tucker Jackson’s inaugural participation for Allamakee County in that district show earned him Reserve Champion Breeding Beef honors. He was awarded a recognition banner, plus he received a Grizzly cooler, cup and t-shirt as part of the prizewinnings made possible by the county level sponsorships.

As the Allamakee County representative to the Northeast Iowa Showdown, Cota feels the Showdown competition at both the district and state levels is great for the kids and is one more avenue to offer a stage for the fair champions to display their work and dedication. “I do not feel the Showdown adds any pressure to the kids. The youth and parents have worked with their projects for months and many look forward to the opportunities they have to keep on showing past their county fairs,” she explained.

Cota adds that the Showdown series is made up of all volunteers, dedicated to allow the county youth to showcase their talent and hard work. As volunteers the goal is to let the kids show and to reward the hard work they have done.

This year’s Allamakee County representation at the Northeast Iowa Showdown expanded to five Allamakee County youth participating in that district show, held August 2 this year in West Union. Tucker Jackson’s younger sister, Taylor, advanced both her Allamakee County Fair Grand Champion Market and Breeding Beef to the Northeast Iowa Showdown this year, and she then furthered Allamakee County’s representation by topping that district Market Beef class at the Northeast Iowa Showdown to advance on to the August 9 All Iowa Showdown in Afton for Allamakee County’s first-ever representation at that level in the show series.

Joining Taylor Jackson in representing Allamakee County at this year’s Northeast Iowa Showdown were fellow Allamakee County Fair champions Brenna Berns and Marcus Gebel with their market and breeding sheep, respectively, as well as Wyatt Baxter and Alaina Gebel following their market and breeding swine championships at the county fair.

While being able to attend the Northeast Iowa Showdown themselves, neither Baxter nor Alaina Gebel were allowed to bring their swine champions to that district show, as the Allamakee County Fair swine show is classified as a “terminal show”, meaning the animals are not allowed to further compete in shows after the county fair.

Allamakee County is one of the few counties left that still has a “terminal show” for its swine species but local discussion has been taking place to possibly change that classification for future fairs.

Having both been county champions at the Allamakee County Fair Beef Show and advancing on in the Showdown series, the brother and sister Jackson tandem have now both gained the experience and limelight of that Showdown atmosphere. Tucker has also shown beef animals at numerous events over the years that include the county fair, Iowa State Fair, Junior Nationals and World Beef Expo, and he lists the Showdown show as one of his top five shows overall.

Taylor, who advanced further than her brother in the Showdown series this year, appreciates the assistance from Tucker as they work together and will cover for each other if one of them is involved in an activity that takes him or her away from their animals. In reflecting on her show success this season, Taylor said she puts in long days washing her heifer every day, working her project, but she loves the time spent with her beef.

“This is a great experience where you get to show off your county, and there are great people, families and animals,” shared Taylor as she looks at her experience with the All Iowa Showdown.

Tucker, last year’s reserve champion at the district show, looks at the competition as a chance at honing on his skills for further shows. “The more times you can show your animal the calmer they will be at the Iowa State Fair or for any show,” he shared.

Another brother and sister tandem, Marcus and Alaina Gebel, qualified for district competition with animals in different species classes, Marcus with his champion sheep from the county fair and Alaina winning at the county fair swine show but unable to display her animal at the district show due to her county fair’s “terminal show” status for swine.

Both brother and sister were happy to have the additional opportunity, Marcus commenting that, “The Northeast Iowa Showdown was a lot of fun to show at. I enjoyed showing my sheep with some amazing showmen and working with my family to prepare for the show.”

Alaina followed with, “I was honored to be part of the Showdown even though I couldn’t actually show with my pig. The Showdown program is a great opportunity to further one’s livestock show career.”

Although also not allowed to compete with his animal at the Northeast Iowa Showdown due to the Allamakee County swine show being designated as a “terminal show,” Baxter said he is still proud to represent his county and is deeply satisfied with his accomplishments. He witnessed the incredible atmosphere and support of all of the competitors, family and organizers of the event. He looks at showing livestock as a sport, where the individual practices and works with his or her animal, comparable to preparation for a sporting event.

“It’s a sport that teaches work ethic and determination, while always putting the animal’s needs in front of your own,” observed Baxter. “I know my pig could have been competitive there; I wish she could have been there with me.”

In showing her market sheep, Berns also witnessed at the district show the close relationships of the kids competing, the show organizers, and all the families that attended and assisted in making sure the show was a success. She felt it was a different atmosphere, something she really liked. In comparing the county fair and the district show, Berns noted that, “At the county fair, everything is much more busy with lamb after lamb getting ready for each class. I love competing in a higher competition level and learning more and more from each participant, and hearing what another judge has to say so that we may improve our lambs for the upcoming years.”

Dewey Lloyd, one of the founders of the All Iowa Showdown series, has best explained the purpose of the fairly new show opportunities for Iowa youth in the Showdown series: “When it comes down to it, creating a good work ethic is our goal for our exhibitors. We want them to experience that if they work hard at something, they can succeed.”

For additional information about the Showdown series, or to provide support for the series, contact Allamakee County representative Dana Cota.

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