Looking Back: Livestock Show Memories

Posted: July 16, 2020

Farm kids remember the days when they showed livestock at the DeKalb County 4-H Fair. Even if it’s been 60+ years.

Their prized animals were selected from their farm herd or purchased in hopes of showing their finest livestock. After the fair, their show animals returned to the farm.

We asked these grown up local farm kids to share their show experiences with us as they look back to the past.

Jim Bridge


Livestock Shown: Beef cattle & market hogs

Show Years: 1960-1964

4-H Club: Afton Boys

Show Memories: I remember the times that several calves got loose when unloading; they got spooked. It took a lot of us to round them up. One year we had so much rain that caused the trucks to get stuck at the fairgrounds.

Best Part: Meeting other 4-H’ers from all parts of the county, great concession stand, great job that the Extension advisors did, and the volunteers. Also, I enjoyed the General Projects Show when it was held at the fairgrounds simultaneously with the Livestock Show. The combined shows brought a lot of variety and families to the fair.

Notables: I think we had a square dance one year. The 4-H Fair lasted from Wednesday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. Back then, the fair was bigger.

Bob Diedrich


Livestock Shown: Beef cattle

Show Years: 1948-1958

4-H Club: Afton Boys

Show Memories: One year at the Sandwich Fair Junior Show we had to parade our cattle in front of the grandstand. When returning to the barns through the infield grass, the band started playing music. With a loud crash of drums and cymbals, this spooked about 20 head of cattle, dragging kids. There was never a parade after that incident.

Best Part: Meeting other 4-H’ers while grooming and showing their animals. Also, learning new techniques over the years.

Notables: These were exciting times for youngsters, ages 10 to 21.

Bob Jordal


Livestock Shown: Beef cattle & hogs

Show Years: 1952-1958

4-H Club: DeKalb Choreboys

Show Memories: I remember having some good fun with the assistant farm advisor, Dave Myatt. He said us young guys were always up to something. My best show year was when I was in eighth grade and showed Chester Whites. I had Grand Champion Barrow, Pen of Barrows and Market Litter. It swept the show that year.

Best Part: The comradery with friends was the best part and the satisfaction of showing.

Notables: My show years sparked my interest in raising beef cattle. I fed cattle for several years and then had a cow-calf herd. My 4-H years were enjoyable – at the fair, attending Federation meetings, and later participating in Rural Youth with many of the same 4-H friends.

Gene Miller


Livestock Shown: Beef cattle & hogs

Show Years: 1951-1959

4-H Club: Lovell’s Luck

Show Memories: The fair was always a time of preparation and anticipation of looking forward to meeting up with friends from previous years from across DeKalb County 4-H clubs. I remember when we slept on blankets above the dairy barn where we played cards and pranks on others, told stories and jokes until the wee hours of the morning. It was a great time away from home, making some great friends.

Best Part: It was the culmination of finally being able to compete against friends with my animals in the show ring, the reward of months of dedication and hard work. Winning ribbons and prize money were a bonus to my 4-H projects along with life-long values and lessons learned.

Notables: In my last year of 4-H my Spotted Poland China gilt farrowed nine piglets but refused to let them nurse from her. Consequently, I bottle fed the six surviving piglets every three hours until weaning and was able to take them to the fair in August. They placed well and saved my project from disaster. I learned the extra effort was well worth it.

Joan (Baie) Stanley


Livestock Shown:Hogs

Show Years: 1959-1964

4-H Club: Waterman Winners

Show Memories:I showed Spotted Poland China pigs at the fair. My dad (Arden) helped me get ready for the show – washing, cleaning and brushing the pigs. He also taught me how to show pigs; he showed pigs at several county and state fairs. Showing was a family affair for us. I remember one time in the show ring another pig ran between my legs and took me for a ride! 

Best Part:I liked showing animals with other 4-H members. Each year I looked forward to the fair and seeing old friends again.

Notables: Girls were not allowed to stay overnight at the fairgrounds, but the boys could. Growing up on the farm and 4-H provided so many opportunities for me. I was a member of two clubs – the livestock club and a girl’s club. My mother was a 4-H leader for the girl’s club.

Roger Steimel


Livestock Shown: Hogs & beef cattle

Show Years: 1950-1957

4-H Club: DeKalb Choreboys

Show Memories: My first year in 4-H at the age of 11, I bought a bred Chester White gilt. She farrowed a litter of seven pigs, six of which I took to the fair. I was overwhelmed by winning three trophies. I never came close to matching that the rest of my show years. That fair was held at the large Ellwood barns on North First Street in DeKalb. I went on to serve as a 4-H leader for 10 years and was the swine show superintendent at the same time.

Best Part: The comradery with other 4-H members was the best part of showing.

Notables: We stayed overnight at the fair in a cattle trailer. Also I enjoyed the friendly competition between our 4-H club and the Afton Boys from the fair to softball tournaments.

Orrin F. Vandeburg


Livestock Shown:Beef cattle & hogs

Show Years: 1949-1959

4-H Club: Lovell’s Luck

Show Memories: I showed at three 4-H fairs in conjunction with the Sycamore Farmers Club which was a fair of its own before closing. They were: Klages’s Woods on Rt. 23, DeKalb; Hunter & Nelson’s on North First St., DeKalb; and then at the Sandwich Fairgrounds. It was great sleeping at Sandwich Fairgrounds in the loft above the dairy barn.

Best Part: Knowing what to look for in the type of animals at that time. I have seen a great deal of change in animals over the years.

Notables: I was 10 years old when I borrowed money from the bank ($100) to purchase my first steer for the feedlot. I started keeping records on my calendar for feed and other costs to put in my 4-H records. I paid all costs for my animals. I have been a 4-H Leader for 62 years.

Kent Wesson


Livestock Shown: Sheep & hogs

Show Years: 1950 – 1958

4-H Club: Suydam Victor

Show Memories: Fair time started long before the actual fair. Sheep always took much longer to prep than swine, with the washing and trimming of the sheep’s wool. Show day was the big day, and I was always nervous about how the animal would show. We were also very aware of our competition. We learned that any day, a different judge would see things differently. I remember the year there was a major change in the meat type hogs. At the FFA Fair, my brother Norman and I did very well. Two days later at the 4-H Fair, it was a battle to see which one of us would be in the last pen!

Best Part: Looking back, the best part was getting to know and compete against fellow 4-H members. These folks would be part of our lives all thru our life continuing to cross paths in 4-H, Extension, Farm Bureau, and commodity organizations.

Notables: From the show years of 4-H to present day, the changes in our livestock are amazing. In the 1950’s, lambs might take 8 months to make 100-110 pounds. Now in five months they weigh 150 pounds. Finished heifers were 900-950 pounds, now 1300-1400 pounds and steers 1400-1500 pounds today. Barrows and gilts were 230 pounds in the ‘50s, and now are closer to 300 pounds. Like all agriculture, it seems we are doing more with less.