MENDON, Ill. -- Showing cattle for the first time at the Adams County Fair, Grady Shaffer already has figured out one secret to success.
"Don't be scared," the 9-year-old from Mendon said.
The crossbred Angus steers can sense stress and tense up in the show ring, where Adams County 4-H members like Grady show off months of hard work with cattle.
"It's fun because you get to hang out with your cows," said Grady, a member of the Central Adams Firecrackers. "You get to show them off and prove to the judges that you can really do something."
Showing Buck, Moonshine and Gunner sometimes can be hard, especially "when the cows don't act right," he said.
But Becky Shaffer said her son takes away some valuable lessons well before he steps into the show ring.
"We do this to teach them responsibility, how to take care of animals and the hard work it takes to do all that," she said. "The reward at the end is you have a steer you can walk out and show and take pride in workmanship."
Curt Rincker, who judged the show with Emily Ivey, looked for high-quality animals – and high-quality exhibitors.
"We'll be looking at young people that come to the ring prepared, who have a working knowledge with their projects. We like to see work ethic," Rincker said. "We're judging them, their show ring skills and presence. It's called showmanship."
Juliann Orr of Liberty, who came to the show to watch her great-granddaughter Brynn Krutmeier compete, appreciates the hard work of all the exhibitors.
"It's a challenge," she said. "You just don't go out, pick out a cow and say come on, let's go to the fair."
Sixty exhibitors showed cattle in Tuesday's annual 4-H Beef Show, including Mary Perry, the Adams County Beef Queen from Camp Point.
"I've just grown up showing. I like it a lot," said the 17-year-old member of Central Adams Firecrackers, who has three younger siblings also showing cattle.
Mary's worked with her Angus heifers Charlene and Mae for nine months preparing for "fair hopping" this summer with stays at the Hancock, Jersey, Adams and Brown county fairs, and show days mean even more work.
"We lead in the cattle, feed them, wash and groom them all, and there's show prep, too. We condition their hair and put on their show halters," she said. "I do this because I really enjoy producing my cattle and showing off all the hard work we've put in all year."
The Perrys stay with their animals at the fair, taking time off to ride rides and check out the exhibits, but the cattle are their priority.
"This is sort of our family vacation. It keeps (the kids) out of trouble, we hope, and keeps them off video games," said Mary's dad, Todd Perry, who used to show rabbits and hogs while his parents showed dairy cattle. "I'm 51 years old. This is my 51st year out here."
Showing also is a family tradition for the Shaffers. Grady's dad, Cory, showed when he was growing up, and so did his dad. "This is the third generation showing crossbred animals," Becky Shaffer said.
Along with their steers, the Shaffers also had bottle-fed calves for fair visitors to see. "They're able to pet them, to touch cows," Becky Shaffer said. "We're teaching about the beef industry, so everybody understands where their food comes from. A lot of people think it comes just from the grocery store."