It was 90 degrees at the Barry County Fair when Jordyn Skinner walked her dairy feeder cow, Russell, into the show ring for the Senior Showmanship for Dairy Feeders contest. With her long blonde hair pulled back in a braid and wearing a white, buttoned-down shirt, jeans, cowboy boots and a Western belt with lots of bling, the Caledonia FFA president looked more poised and confident than some politicians.
“You learn leadership, responsibility and self-discipline in FFA, and a lot of that comes through showing at fairs during the summer time,” said Skinner, who participated as a member of the Middleville Clovers 4-H Club.
It was up at 6 a.m. to clean and wash the pen and feed Russell and the three lambs she had brought to the fair. Rules required her to be finished by 9 a.m. At 5 p.m. she did it all over again. In between those hours she competed and hung out with friends. “I also have to check my lambs and calf and make sure they always have water.” Jordyn said. “I have barn duty on some days, so I must be in the barn making sure the aisles are clean and the animals have water.”
That schedule is typical of FFA and 4-H members all over Kent and Barry counties who show cows, sheep, pigs and other animals at summer fairs.
“Responsibility wise, she’s matured beyond measure,” said Jordyn’s mother, Monica Skinner, of what her daughter has learned through her FFA and 4-H years.
About 10-20 Caledonia FFA students take animals to Barry and Kent county fairs. Before getting there, they’ve learned about raising livestock, making sure they get the proper nutrition and exercise, plus training and grooming. “It’s a lot of attention to detail,” said John Schut, Caledonia Agriscience teacher and FFA co-advisor. “Feeding and training needs to be consistent and requires a lot of time.”
Chapter members also learn about the ethics of raising safe food to eat and the importance of community involvement. “FFA connects them to real world,” Schut said. “They understand and learn there is more to the world than themselves.”
Another very important thing FFA has taught Jordyn: How to be herself. “You don’t always fit in when you drive a truck and wear cowboy boots,” she said, smiling.
Jordyn’s generation has been tagged as not working especially hard, but she’s miles away from that description. Despite the work required at the fair, it was her summer vacation. When she’s not showing, she works 40-50 hours a week in the summer at a celery farm. During the school year, she gets up at 5 a.m. to do chores, when most students are still asleep. “She doesn’t complain at all,” her mom said.
Jordyn has shown sheep for 10 years, but wanted to try something new this year. She picked a Holstein calf, purchasing Russell when he was seven days old and bottle feeding him until he was a month old. “I picked him for his structure and because he looked like a quality market steer,” she said.
Jordyn didn’t make it to the second round of the senior showmanship dairy feeder contest (the judge said she held the halter overhand, and it was supposed to be held underhand), but she took it in stride and found the positive: It was good for her first year of showing a dairy feeder cow, she said, and besides, Russell “was not in a good mood.”
For years, the Caledonia FFA has had a reputation as one of the top chapters in the state, taking home awards wherever its estimated 90 members compete. There are about 110 FFA chapters across Michigan.
In March, Caledonia earned a National Chapter Gold Award for outstanding chapter programs, and Jordyn won a gold award as state runner-up in the job interview competition. An Outstanding Junior award and Academic Recognition award are some of the other accolades she’s earned.
‘Like One Big Family’
The awards and ribbons are nice to look at, but friendships made and life skills learned are just as important. Jordyn said the people she’s met and the relationships she’s built are great. “Between FFA and 4-H members, it’s like one big family,” she said.
The close-knit group makes fair seem like a combination of a family reunion and summer vacation. Others are always ready to help out and praise is delivered, win or lose. The competition is friendly between club members, said Jordyn, who plans to pursue a career that involves agriculture. “You want to win, but you cheer for everyone else, too.”
Schut, who has known Jordyn since she was 5, said he’s seen her go from an introvert to being outspoken and able to talk to anyone. Jordyn’s parents also have seen her grow.
“She’s a hard worker, and I’m more than proud,” said her father Chuck Skinner.