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SPRINGFIELD — Every summer stock show kids throughout the state work diligently with their beef, swine, and sheep projects to vie for the title of Master Showman at the Illinois State Fair.
Sponsored by the Illinois Farm Bureau and RFD Radio Network, Master Showmanship is a livestock evaluation contest in which junior exhibitors must be knowledgeable not only on their specific specie of animal, but for two others as well. Exhibitors must first win at the county level before advancing to the Master Showmanship contest.
And this year, for the second time in a row, Hannah Folken, 18, of Streator not only represented the Illinois Valley but her home county of La Salle as well. Being a swine showman her whole life, Hannah says competing in Master Showmanship has really helped her embrace the various species of beef and sheep.
“Master Showmanship has really broadened my horizons with different techniques that go with each species of animal,” Hannah said. “For cattle, there’s a certain way to set them up and fit them. I’ve never worked with cattle before so that was a big experience. Sheep are a whole different story. It really takes a lot of practice, but it’s definitely worth it.”
Competitors are judged on their showing abilities and their knowledge of each specie. Hannah said this is one of her favorite aspects because people learn so much through this process.
“Some questions have to do with cuts of meat,” Hannah said. “But a lot of it is more about the whole species of animal. Like how much you can sell your meat for and some questions are about feed which is very important for livestock. So, it’s not so much the animal you’re showing, but the whole species of animal.”
All participants received a $25 Visa gift card, bucket/feed scoop, and a T-shirt while the overall winner received a director’s chair, livestock sign, $500 Visa gift card, show box, and belt buckle. Division winners received a $100 Visa gift card, duffel bag, and belt buckle.
Hannah said it was just an honor to have the opportunity to compete in last Friday night’s competition and owes it all to her older sister, Emily, who has taught her most everything she needs to know about showing.
“I always tell Hannah to follow her gut,” Emily said. “Even though it’s a different species, it’s the same because you’re watching the judge and you have to trust your animal. I believe they can feel when you tense up so you have to stay calm. Hannah’s been an awesome showman her whole life. It’s a family thing.”
The hours spent building their swine operation has bonded the Folken sisters like none before, but what some people may not realize is their show animals are their babies.
“Some people think you go out in the show ring and whip them with a stick and that’s all you do, but our animals are our babies,” Hannah said. “They get fed before us and their pens are always cleaner than our house no matter what. It’s definitely a loving experience. All of my gilts have names, and I go out there every night and tell them good night as I walk them. That’s how it’s always been. It’s a love thing for me.”