Christmas wishes came true a month early for Sadie Perry, a sophomore at Magna Vista High School, and MaKayla Dillon, a freshman at Bassett High School, when each received the pet they had wanted, although something a little larger than the puppy or kitten a teenager might typically request.
Earlier this month, each student welcomed a heifer to her home.
That’s right, a heifer, as in a young female cow.
This is all thanks to a scholarship from the Virginia Junior Hereford Association, which promotes agriculture, Hereford cattle and showing them. Each student wrote an essay, submitted a letter of recommendation and filled out an application.
Perry had applied for a heifer last year but was not selected. She said waiting for a year made winning this time extra special.
Rose, Perry’s calf, is only 6 months old but requires just as much care – if not more – as a full-grown show animal.
“You cannot imagine the weird looks I get when I tell people that I have to wash and blow dry my cow’s hair,” Perry said. “Many people don’t realize how pampered these cows can be.
“Adding in the size of the animal, it’s going to be more time-consuming than a house pet. You have to feed every morning and every evening and wash and blow out each day, if possible. That’s ideal, especially during show season, to make them look their best in the ring.”
Dillon said that when she found out she had won she hardly could breathe. Paisley, born Feb. 15, quickly became a member of her family.
Like Rose, Paisley gets groomed daily. In addition to washing and blow-drying the cow’s hair, Dillon also applies special products, such as Weaver’s conditioning spray, to the heifer’s coat.
“The optimal goal is to promote healthy hair and growth,” Dillon said.
Both girls expressed excitement about their new pets, but Dillon noted that not everyone understands her enthusiasm.
“A different teacher congratulates me every day on winning the heifer. My personal friends do not understand,” Dillon said. “My family is overly excited and supports me in my showing endeavors.”
For Perry, people gave positive feedback about the cow.
“They’re very supportive and excited for me all at the same time, because they see my passion for it,” Perry said. “They’re thrilled for the interest in agriculture that has been passed down from generation to generation.”
Throughout the end of this year and next, the students will enter their cows into shows at fairs and livestock pavilions. And they say there’s more to a competition than showing up with a well-groomed animal.
“Creating a relationship with the calf will make them more calm in the show ring and make them cooperate better. Good maintenance of the animal is very evident in the show ring,” Perry said. “The structure of an animal is very important as well. In a close, competitive class of heifers, preference is the ultimate decision-maker. The judge’s preference may be the color, the demeanor or maybe the showman – it just depends. Every judge is different.”
Having shown cows for about a year now, Perry said she is excited to train with Rose.
“I enjoy being able to work with livestock and being able to see what really goes into creating a well-performing heifer,” Perry said. “I also like the individuality of it. It’s an individual sport, but you can’t do it without the support of other people. In the barn, all the families get to know one another and we all help each other out.”
Dillon, going into her second year of showing, also said she enjoys the fellowship of cattle competitions.
“I am most excited about meeting new people, building a stronger bond with my heifer and my first Junior Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky,” Dillon said.
Dillon also offered insight into what judges look for in a winning heifer.
“Every judge is different, and they each have their own personal opinion. In showmanship, the judge looks for how well I handle and personally know my heifer,” Dillon said. “In the breeds class, the judge is comparing heifer to heifer on overall conformation, structural correctness and if they will make a great cow.”
Even though both students are in high school, they’ve already decided to work with animals as a career.
“I personally will continue working with cattle and plan on pursuing a degree as a veterinarian with a focus on large animals,” Dillon said.
“At this point now, I can’t see myself without cows. My experiences with cattle have completely changed my outlook toward the future. Most kids don’t dream to be a farmer or to work with large animals, but that’s what I enjoy doing,” Perry said. “My love for Herefords will push me toward beef over dairy, and having a beef herd over dairy will still allow me to have another job as well. I plan on becoming an ag teacher and FFA adviser while still maintaining my herd.”
And Perry and Dillon said they plan to give back in one other way: Theyplan to breed their heifers and donate a calf to the scholarship program so that future students also may participate.