CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – The Austin Peay State University Beef Cattle Show Team is barely older than the livestock it shows, but the program has quickly made a name for itself as a competitor on the local, state and national levels. They only reinforced that reputation when Ruby, the team’s prize heifer, or young female cow, was named Reserve Division Champion Percentage Simmental at the 2017 Dixie National Livestock show, held this past February in Jackson, Mississippi.
In addition to multiple local and state championships, Ruby is the team’s second national championship heifer. In 2014, the program won its first Dixie National championship when heifer, Dreamy, was named Senior Calf Champion Percentage Simmental.
Dr. Rod Mills, Austin Peay State University associate professor of agriculture and the team’s advisor, said that the program’s two national champions are no small feats. One of only a handful of universities in the country with a beef show team, Austin Peay does not compete at a collegiate level. Instead, the program measures itself against professional breeders at competitions like Dixie National.
“The 2014 championship was a big moment for our program, and we’ve only been building since then,” Mills said. “For Ruby to win this championship is a major accomplishment. She won her class and went on to compete in the division champion and grand champion classes, which meant she ultimately finished in the Top 8 of about 80 heifers and teams who were at the competition.”
This national championship was the culmination of months of work for the five-person team, which was made up of Mills and APSU students John Thomas Fussell, Tyler Davis, Austin Henley and Kayla Jackson. Since the team acquired Ruby in October of last year, each student has had to balance their studies with the responsibility of preparing her to compete against a largely professional field.
“I think the biggest thing I had to learn this past year was actually time management,” Fussell said. “You really have to schedule your classes around the work we do at the (APSU Farm), because we have work here every day that needs to get done.”
Davis, who assisted the 2014 championship team as a community volunteer, echoed Fussell, saying that there was rarely a time where one of the team members wasn’t putting in time at the farm.
“Some of us were (working with Ruby) from 2:30-6 p.m., while others were here from 4 p.m. until later in the night,” Davis said. “We were going to be there until we got done what we needed to get done.”
Show day was equally grueling for the team, as prep for Ruby’s debut in the ring began well before the crack of dawn. With nearly 100 other teams all vying for space in the venue’s stables, the team had to get up early to ensure they put their best hoof forward.
“I think we got up around 2:30 or 3 a.m. and we didn’t lay our heads back down until about 10 p.m. that night,” Davis said. “It was a long day; we were up washing, clipping and feeding (Ruby) before she was judged later that morning.”
Jackson, who helped lead Ruby through the competition stage, compared showing to events like dog shows and runway modeling. But while heifers are judged on physical appearance and breeding potential, it falls on “cow whisperers” like Jackson and Henley to lead heifers through the competition.
“Tyler and John Thomas worked to get Ruby’s hair and fitting and grooming right before the event, and Austin and I worked more on guiding Ruby through the event and practicing walking and presenting technique,” Jackson said. “I’ve been showing animals pretty much since I was born, so I have a lot of experience walking livestock into poses and getting them to behave (during competitions).”
The team was organized by, and continues to be supported by Mark and Betty Barnett, co-owners of the Kentucky-Tennessee Livestock Market. In addition, the generous donation of a Ford F-250 truck by Jenkins & Wynne Ford, Honda and Lincoln enabled the team to bring Ruby and her fellow heifers to and from the competition.
The contributions of the Barnett family, Jenkins & Wynne and other community supporters allows the APSU Beef Cattle Show Team to enhance the APSU Department of Agriculture’s reputation, as well as provide invaluable experience for Austin Peay students.
“If you want to learn more about cattle in the world of showing, then being a part of this team is the perfect opportunity for a student,” Jackson said. “In addition to the work we do, we also have so many opportunities to meet people and form important relationships within these shows that are really valuable for students.”
For more information on the department or the Beef Show Team, call 931-221-7272.