From Kenly, NC, our friend Brent Jennings agreed to be a Guest Blogger. Steven McEowen and Brent have become friends as a direct result of the Stock Show Life. Brent provides us with a stroll down Memory Lane with his blog. Settle in and read his contribution, then read it again. The wisdom he shares beyond the written word is worth its' weight in gold.
When meeting someone new or experiencing something for the first time, I always feel it is nice to understand a little history behind the person or the event. For example, over the last several months, I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to podcasts with different livestock producers and learning about what shaped them and molded their specific operation into what it is today. As a parent, I think about this as I continue to watch my children grow and in particular the last month as I have had some more time to reflect and think about what impacts we have and how they will affect someone for years to come.
Please bear with me as I give you a little of my background. Personally, my childhood shaped me into the person I am today and I truly feel it allows me the opportunity to see multiple sides of an industry that I so dearly love. As a child my mom was a high school science teacher and my dad worked for the telephone company. My dad did have some livestock background working on different farms after college, but he had no idea what the livestock show industry was nor particularly concerned with it. At an early age we enjoyed fox hunting, and had a small pack of dogs that we spent countless hours in the woods with. Those dogs had a huge impact on me as just my strong admiration for animals and their ability to complete a task they were trained to do. It was in kindergarten when my passion for livestock began. My mom had a student named Douglas Cartwright who was a senior and raised and showed sheep in the local county fair. My mom allowed me the opportunity to work with him some and I got my first lamb to show then, and let me tell you I was hooked from the start. For the next few years we kept our animals at the Cartwright’s who became a second family to me. It was after a few years, and selling the fox hounds we decided to move the show lambs to our house. This is where we started to make steps not only in our competitiveness but shortly began to raise a few lambs of our own. I must admit looking back, the quality was a little lackluster but man we were in business. From there my childhood included showing lambs, pigs, steers, and a few heifers at the local, regional, and state fair. While my dad and I were both extremely competitive we generally were closer to the bottom than the top at most regional shows and the state fair. I will say that my only champion market animal at the NC State Fair was a Market Hog that I won with my senior year. After high school I was fortunate to attend Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Kansas. Other than showing livestock my passion for the judging team was much like it is for many youth today. The experience of a judging team was monumental for me from truly understanding how to evaluate animals and building lifelong relationships with some great folks. This year my teammates and I, as hard as it may seem to believe, are celebrating 20 years since winning the American Royal and NAILE livestock judging contests. I did return home and finished school at NCSU and started my career at NC State University. Currently, I serve as an Extension Associate in the department of Animal Science at NCSU and coordinate Youth Livestock Programs for NC. After college I married my wife Allison who was an Agricultural Education teacher for 12 years before becoming a regional coordinator for NC FFA. We have two sons Zade who is 9 and Carter who is 4. We still have a small set of black face ewes and we have a couple of goats that Carter is planning to start his herd with.
I will be the first to admit I have been blessed in life, with the opportunities to do what I truly love. From working a job that allows me to give back to youth that have the same desires and passions as I, going out to judge a show, or staying home and working animals with my boys every part of it I do love.
Judging shows started for me just out of college with a small county fair in Eastern NC. I quickly learned that it was very rewarding to serve as a judge but also very humbling. As the years have flown by and have continued to judge more shows on a variety of levels I do take each and every opportunity extremely seriously. After every show I reflect and I can still see many of the champions in my head from years past.
Personally, judging continues to be rewarding from the aspect that I get to give back to an industry that has meant so much to me. Additionally, I find myself in awe of the quality of animals that come through the ring and it allows me to return home and strive to get better. I do believe as a parent of two boys who enjoys showing has allowed me to garner a different perspective and respect for judges and their opinions.
I will wrap this up with a little bit of what the past several months have done to me. I am certain that when the ball dropped for 2020 no one had any clue at how challenging this year was going to be or the things that may happen. What I can tell you for me personally it has allowed me more time than ever to reflect and understand the importance of family. I have spent countless hours in the barn with my wife and boys over the last several months and been fortunate to watch my oldest son continue to grow in his involvement from chores to daily care of his show animals. While I will be as competitive as anyone I do believe this entire ordeal has allowed me a greater appreciation for what we do as a family and a chance to prioritize the truly important things in life.