Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Friday's owner has high hopes for payday today

by on August 29, 2014 10:59 AM

Perhaps there’s some unintended prophecy at work in the beef cattle barn at the Indiana County fairgrounds.

It’s livestock auction day for the 4-H and FFA students who have spent the year raising animals for show, judging and sale at the fair, and the steer judged best of all will be going on the block.

Friday is his name.

Fathered by a bull named Payday.

Garrett Gardner has his fingers crossed for that kind of thought to continue.

Friday already paid off multiple times before collecting the grand champion banner in Indiana. It’s this animal’s fourth show championship.

His winning streak started in January at the Virginia Club Calf Producers show in Harrisonburg, Va., continued in March at the Mid-Atlantic Junior Angus Classic Show, also in Harrisonburg, and topped out in July in Indianapolis at the National Junior Angus Show.

Best of all those shows, Friday will end his career with his sale today in Indiana. Relegated to near anonymity, he’ll just be known as No. 248 when Garrett leads him before the bidders. Not long after the sale, someone will be calling him rare, medium or well-done.

“The muscling is what the judges look for,” Garrett’s dad, Gene Gardner, explained. “It’s how wide they are — the wider they are, the more meat they have in them. And here, under the hair, you can feel it … can you feel his ribs? There’s a layer of fat in there, and that’s what the judge looks at to see how much fat he has. More is better. You can’t have too much, but more is better, usually.”

There are two rows of fat-ribbed beef cattle, 30 in all at the Indiana County Fair this year. Beyond their suitability for menus, though, it then comes down to their looks when a judge decides how to award the ribbons.

Where “thigh gap” is a feature clothing designers like in their models, it’s not so desirable with cattle judges. A good tail, maybe with a pom-pom-like puff of hair on the end to distract from the space between the back legs, counts more, Gene Gardner said.

Judges look at the feet, too; the shape of the legs, the appearance of the coat.

“A lot of times it’s just how pretty they look. It’s just a beauty pageant, I think, especially out at the junior nationals,” Gene Gardner said.

The look of the coat is so important, it’s easily the most labor-intensive part of the steer’s daily care.

“I get up to feed him at 7 a.m., then start washing and rinsing him three times a day beginning at 8,” Garrett said.

That’s been a daily routine since November, when the Gardners bought Friday as a 6-month-old calf from a breeder Scott Buchanan, of Aldie, Va.

Friday’s rarely seen light of day — literally — because sunlight makes cattle shed their hair. He’s been taken out to walk and exercise only at night, and spent the summer in an air-conditioned room.

Garrett, 18, is the third generation of his family to raise and show cattle, but easily is the most successful. His animals have won banners in past years at the county fair, and a steer he named Pickles was a national winner in 2012.

He has been raising calves for 10 years so far and has only three more years of eligibility for junior livestock shows as an FFA member, but is considering a future with cattle in a breeding business of his own.

A senior at Purchase Line High School, he’s hoping the time spent with the cattle can pay off with auction sale cash to help him get into post-secondary education, particularly Connors State College, based in Warner, Okla.

“Everybody asks me, why don’t I play sports?” Garrett said. “This is my sport.”

As Garrett explains it, he gets as much training as the cattle he has worked on every day. And the show and auction this week are his version of playing quarterback in the state finals.

“It’s a great experience. You work all year for that one day that you show,” Garrett said. “You don’t take a football team out on the field and win the game if you never have any practice, if you don’t lift. I wash and rinse and I work the hair every day.”

PHOTO: Garrett Gardner's entry won grand champion market steer Thursday at the county fair. (Jamie Empfield/Gazette)



Chauncey Ross is the Gazette’s fixture at Indiana Area and Homer-Center school board meetings, has been seen with pen and notepad in area police stations and courts, and is something of an Open Records Act and Sunshine Law advocate. He also manages the Gazette’s websites and answers your questions about them.
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JAMES CARMO
August 29, 2014 10:58 AM
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