Along with their first-prize ribbons, some of the exhibitors in Saturday's open beef cattle competition at the Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show racked up some first-time experiences as well.
Austin Alvarez, 14, of Trilby captured both the grand champion and reserve grand champion titles in the registered female category with his purebred Angus. A pleased but humble eight-year veteran of the show ring, Alvarez said: "I've never had both (champions) before."
His cow-calf pair emerged at the top as judge Ed Dillard, a retired vocational agriculture teacher from Dade City, described the cow: "A usable kind of cattle with a world of depth, straightness, muscling, an excellent mammary system."
In fact, she has proven herself so well as a milk producer, onlookers asked if a bull had inadvertently entered the class. The husky bull was the cow's calf.
The judge lauded Alvarez's 15-month-old heifer as "a complete female" when he nodded her into the reserve slot. Dillard pointed out the entry's "roominess, straightness, muscling, long rump and extra flair to the round."
The youth said both females, rather than being sold, will go into his family's 40-head producing herd. That's after they compete among some 1,200 head in early July at the National Junior Angus Show in Harrisburg, Pa.
Alvarez raises his cattle under leadership of Pasco Middle School FFA and Possum Trot 4-H Club in Pasco County.
In the grade female show, Jeffrey Mitchell, 14, of Zephyrhills earned the top purple award with his cow "in working clothes," the judge noted. The entry in the cow-calf class entered the ring with an offspring at side. Dillard said of the cow: "long body, long rump, very few holes in her."
Mitchell began his cattle career as a 4-H peewee at 4 years of age. He's president of the Zephyrhills 4-H Club and president of the FFA at Cantania Middle School.
In a somewhat rare happenstance, the second-place female in Mitchell's class, owned and shown by Ashley Nobles, 12, of Wimauma, walked into the reserve championship. Normally vying for top honors are the winners of each age class. But when the champion is selected, the red-ribbon winner from that class moves up to compete.
So far, Nobles has served as a bridesmaid.
"I've had reserve grand champion plenty of times," at county fairs and the state fair, she said, but is still seeking a grand championship.
Giving the champs a run for their money was 18-year-old Ashley Oakley of Zephyrhills with her blue-ribbon junior heifer calf. Dillard said this youngest class was "one of the most difficult," both for its age range of more than a year and its large number of entries at nine.
Although Ashley took the grand champion steer championship in her first cattle foray at the Pasco County Fair six years ago, she said this win was the first time she'd scored with a breeding animal.
Ashley's sister, Hannah Mae, 8, enjoyed her first stint in competition. While she ranked No. 4 in the junior heifer class, Hannah Mae said the experience was "good."
Two opportunities to view more beef cattle loom on Saturday.
At 10 a.m., 46 steers are scheduled for competition. And at 3 p.m., they'll appear for sale in the market livestock auction. The steers will be joined at the sale by some 60 hogs and three pens each of meat rabbits and chickens.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.