Wisconsin Livestock Expo puts on big youth show in absence of state fair

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer

While the state's biggest livestock exhibition shows were cancelled this year, the Wisconsin Livestock Expo made up for it with a week-long event at the Racine County Fairgrounds.

Youths got the chance to exhibit their beef, sheep and swine, a chance that many of them would not have had otherwise due to the many county fair cancellations following the Wisconsin State Fair's cancellation in May. While the trek down to Union Grove was long for some, thousands came for the event that turned out to be some kids' only opportunity to show off their animals.

For those who couldn't come, every show was streamed on the expo's website. The rules and regulations for the shows were largely the same as the state fair shows, since this was meant to be a stand-in event, except the expo's executive committee decided to remove the cap on how many animals an exhibitor could show. Committee member Steva Reppe said the expo was created for the kids.

"We were ready to go within a few minutes of the state fair cancelling because we kind of knew it was coming," Reppe said. "'For the kids' was kind of our motto the whole time, because that was our goal: this is for the kids. Anytime a tough decision's come up, that's what we've gone with, is what's the best thing for the kids."

Reppe said the committee came together to "do it and do it right." She said there's no certainty in holding another youth expo like this next year because they don't want to compete with the state fair, but merely replace what the state fair would have provided in ordinary circumstances. She also said that this expo was a unique opportunity for sponsors and members of the ag community to show their support through donations and the like, but there was no guarantee they'd see this level of support next year.

Class 35 crossbreed barrows being judged at the Wisconsin Livestock Expo. 19-year-old Cole Weinkauf, left, won champion in swine showmanship in his age group and was an overall runner-up.

Families were allowed to bring their trailers directly onto the grounds, separated by lots to allow for social distancing. Some even brought a TV to watch the show stream from outside if they didn't want to go inside the barn where quarters were much tighter. Mask-wearing was encouraged, but not enforced, and there were some hand sanitizing stations along the grounds. Even some food trucks offered food and beverages to attendees. 

Cate Cherney, 15, won grand champion in the market lambs competition. Cherney said she was happy about having a show this year because many kids had been working on their animals all summer without knowing if they would be able to show off their work. She said she was excited to see another show was being planned. The lack of pens at the expo that the state fair would normally provide did prevent some people from being there if they couldn't get a trailer, she added.

"I feel so honored. I was so excited when I saw that they were planning another show," Cherney said. "I was like, 'We've already got these animals, what am I going to do with them if I can't show them?' I was so happy that they put all this work towards the kids to let us show and have fun with our animals."

Loran Klitzman, who owns Klitzman Seed in Evansville, sponsored the show because he wanted to support the youth cause. He said times have been tough recently and he wanted to give the kids something to look forward to this summer when so many things have been cancelled or pushed back. Klitzman, who's worked in the ag industry for 30 years, said the success of the event is "unreal."

"This is some great organization that came together to give the kids something to do this summer," Klitzman said. "The people here are the ones that want to be here. Everyone is very well-respected about what's going on. ... It's a great cause."

Regan Suddeth, 15, won the market lamb competition for her age group, with Cherney as runner-up. She said she was thankful the show was able to go on, even though it wasn't the state fair, because she just wanted the chance to get out of the house and do what she loves. Suddeth, a Mineral Point native, said the people at the show have a passion for livestock and showing their animals.

"It's hard getting up every day and not knowing if you're going to show your animal," Suddeth said. "It's just crazy how this all is going on, and it's so nice to have people that have a passion for it and want to keep going."

Ben Schmaling, a member of the expo executive committee, said there was a lot of frustration and disappointment back in the spring when the state fair decided to ultimately cancel their shows. But now with this expo, he said the kids are "thrilled" to have a show to compete in. He also said sponsors, including the expo's major sponsor Matt Andis and family as well as Compeer Financial, have been very generous with their support. Schmaling said that the committee wanted to put on a creative – but safe – show.

People brought plenty of snacks and chairs for a day at the Wisconsin Livestock Expo.

"We've had some hurdles and obstacles, but I think more importantly, we just had to have a longer checklist of what we were going to do to make sure that we were safe for everybody and provided them an environment where they could feel comfortable," Schmaling said. "We got a really creative bunch of livestock breeders and producers that know how to put a show on and we're making the best of it."

Schmaling added that although attendance was only livestock enthusiasts and didn't include the typical casual viewers that would be at the state fair shows, he said the event was a huge success. He said the executive committee considered holding an auction akin to the annual Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction, but decided against it because there would be "more boxes to check" in terms of safety and comfort. Instead, the GBRLA sponsored many prizes for the expo, and the kids will receive more leftover money from the event expenses.

"We took our money after expenses and then we divided that up among all the species and the classes to give all that money back to the kids in grand prizes, and they're going to get just checks mailed to them," Schmaling said.