PALMETTO -- It's difficult to teach a cow how to sit, shake hooves and roll over, which is why that's not what they do at the annual Beef and Breeding Showmanship Show at the Manatee County Fair.
If you ever want to know the answer to that all-elusive question, "Where's the beef," it was definitely at the 100th anniversary of the fair Friday in Palmetto.
The cold front held off just long enough for the beefy competitors not to mind preshow baths and grooming sessions. As the night went long and temperatures dropped, more than 100 animals entered the ring to be judged -- some more willing than others.
Keeping 1,000-pound-plus animals under control when you are a 9-year-old girl like Ashley McIlwaine is no easy task. The young Parrish girl was in her first competition with "Diamond" named for the white diamond patch on her cow's head.
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"Diamond's mama was a first-time mama so she didn't know what to do with her calf," said McIlwaine. "So I took her and worked with her and she turned out to be really sweet, so I picked her for the fair."
McIlwaine worked Diamond through halter and show stick training for about nine months readying her for the fair.
"It was just a matter of getting her comfortable and we've been practicing ever since," she said.
The showstopper of the night belonged to Myakka City's Casey Wingate. The homeschooler took grand champion in the registered cow-calf competition as the only competitor in the class. She proved it wasn't a stolen victory by winning the overall Supreme Beef championship selected from the grand champions from all divisions and classes.
Wingate has been showing for nine years and won supreme reserve champion two years ago. Wingate showed Sweet Pea and her calf, Sage, to seal the overall victory.
"I'm really excited right now," said Wingate. "This is a big step up in progress and makes all the hard work worth it."
And work it is. Wingate had some advice for young competitors such as McIlwaine, who hopes to be a champion one day herself.
"It's very long hours and work never ends," said Wingate. "And I mean it never ends. You have to devote every day, including weekends, to not only get ready, but to bond with your calf when you first get it. The calf doesn't know what's going on and will need to learn to trust you."
Ben Hoffner was crowned grand champion in the biggest category of the night, the commercial heifer division, which showed 10 full classes of animals. Hoffner also was crowned beef supreme reserve champion.
Macie Parks opened the night as grand champion in the Brahman influence division with Kylie Privette taking reserve champion.
In nonregistered cow-calf, Dianna Courson won grand champion with Emily Ralston taking reserve champion.
Chloe Bunyak was crowned grand champion in the registered heifers division with Wingate capturing her third title of the night with a reserve championship.
Hoffner won commercial heifers with Hannah Whitaker taking the reserve championship.
It was a long day of preparation and competing for the FFA and 4-H students representing schools from across the county. Lakewood Ranch High School sophomore Cara Zeveney said all students were required to attend school Friday since it's a school function.
"We got off at 12:30 and then came straight here to give her a bath and get her hair groomed and now we'll practice in the ring," said Zeveney. "It takes a lot of practice at home to get them ready for the show and keep them well behaved. They can get nervous in the ring when a lot of people are in the stands making a lot of noise. It's hard to practice for something like that, so I try to get her into as many shows as I can. I think she'll do well, but I don't know how well. She has done pretty good in other shows."
As it turned out, her "Cleo" was a little ornery in the ring, the one thing Zeveney was worried about. Zeveney is no rookie with seven years of showing under her belt. She kept Cleo under control with a strong grasp of the halter and took third place in a class of six.
Most cattle will be sold at market Saturday in the second-to-last day of the fair, but not all. McIlwaine said Diamond isn't going anywhere.
"I'm going to put her out to pasture and get her ready for breeding," she said. "I want to show her again."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.