Youth gather at the Hernando County Youth Steer Show to tout their animals in a contest where bulky bovines are a big deal.
Standing in front of the judge, her hair was perfect. An hour and a half under the blow dryer had added volume and sheen to her long, red tresses. A touch of hair spray held the look neatly in place.
In the end, though, it came down to the size of her rear end.
It just wasn't big enough.
At least that's 9-year-old Jessica Bayne's theory. She said a lack of breadth in the backside cost her 9-month-old heifer, Sweet Pea, a ribbon Wednesday night at the Hernando County Youth Steer Show.
"I'm hoping I can raise a pig next year," Jessica said after Sweet Pea finished last in her class of bottle-fed calves.
The cow's nearest competition for sixth place had a clear advantage, according to the Eastside Elementary third-grader. "Her butt was much bigger."
And, for cows, that's what counts.
So before shows, competitors spend hours preparing their animals' coats _ bathing them, blowing them dry with heavy-duty air hoses and covering them with a thick layer of adhesive _ all with an eye toward making the cows' hips seem broader.
Jill Enders, whose 1,090-pound steer, George, took second place overall, said keeping close to the cow during the delicate regimen is always a good idea.
"The closer you stand, the less it hurts when you get kicked," she said.
Jessica got Sweet Pea ready for the ring by combing the hair on the calf's legs straight up to add volume. Her older brother, Russell Williams, helped work the air hose, carefully blowing the animal's coat forward from her hindquarters toward her head. He helped his sister fashion the hair along Sweet Pea's spine and tail into a tall spike, the better to add height to her profile.
Throughout the beauty treatment, Sweet Pea stood calmly in a chute, where vertical metal bars tightened behind her ears kept her from walking away. She flinched only a couple of times when Jessica sprayed hair spray directly up into the tip of her tail.
"Her butt is thin, so we try to make it as big as it can get," said Jenny Williams, Jessica and Russell's 19-year-old sister. "The bigger they look, the better they do in the class."
Jenny Williams, who makes a living as a pet groomer, is a former steer show competitor and member of FFA, which used to be called Future Farmers of America, and the 4-H Club. She helped supervise Jessica's first show outing.
Earlier in the week, Jessica took third place in the 9- to 11-year-old youth competition and second in the open competition.
"Not bad for her first time," Jenny Williams said.
The family owns a 20-acre farm in Spring Lake with horses, chickens, cows, pigs, llamas and rabbits. They brought Sweet Pea up from the pasture three months ago, and Jessica took over her care and feeding. In that time, the animal has gained 200 pounds, from 275 up to 475.
Unlike the steers, which are auctioned off and slaughtered after the fair, Sweet Pea will go home with Jessica to breed and perhaps return in two years with a calf of her own to show again.
Judge Larry Barthle said the bottle-fed competition is open to calves younger than 1 year old and is aimed at giving younger children a chance to compete before they graduate to steers.
Jessica, who plans to show llamas at the upcoming state fair in Tampa, said she hopes to raise a steer next year, even if the pig plans fall through.
At the end of a week filled with competitions, she didn't hesitate about naming her favorite part of the shows.
"Winning," she said.
YOUTH STEER WINNERS
GRAND CHAMPION: William Wing
RESERVE: Jill Enders
GRAND CHAMPION: Crystal Fincher
RESERVE: Ryann Pedone
Youth steer showmanship
FIRST PLACE: William Wing
SECOND PLACE: Blake Hunter
THIRD PLACE: Victoria Cannon
FIRST PLACE: Zane Sikes
SECOND PLACE: Amy Thomas
THIRD PLACE: Amanda Pearce
Youth swine showmanship
FIRST PLACE: Britton Tafelski
SECOND PLACE: Jodi Moores
THIRD PLACE: William Wing
FIRST PLACE: Bo Strickland
SECOND PLACE: Jessica Lufsey
THIRD PLACE: Rachel Link
GRAND CHAMPION: Katie Odegaard
RESERVE: William Wing