FLANAGAN, Ill. — When other toddlers were learning to toddle, Grace Brown was already learning the fine art of showing goats.
“I was just under a year old when I showed my first goat,” Brown says. In a photograph of her at age 3, she already looks like a pro.
Her family raised award-winning goats from 1999 to 2014 at their JB Boer Goats farm in Livingston County, Illinois. When Brown and her brothers started showing 4-H cattle, the family started a show herd of Shorthorns and Simmental.
Along with livestock, the family owns a fertilizer company.
Today at age 18, Brown has piles of ribbons and walls of banners to show for her and cattle showing skills. Now she shows heifers and steers — often animals she raised herself. She says she enjoys winning with calves she buys, but her real joy comes in having a champion she bred, raised, trained and showed.
“We love to hang banners of calves we raised from day-old calves,” she says.
On a walk about the farm, she points to a little 3-month-old calf.
“He’s an orphan. He’s going to be my bull next year,” she says.
The bottle-fed baby, now pail trained, looks up at her with big calf eyes.
She’s showing a steer she named Montana this year.
When Brown walks through the barnyard, it’s easy to see that the goats and calves are just as comfortable with her as she is with them.
She has already chosen her three heifers — Matilda, Artic and Mojo — to show this summer. She bought Mojo from a sale in Indiana.
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“I want that one,” she declared as soon as she saw her.
When Brown got ready to bid she was worried about what the price might be.
“I was able to snag her in one bid. She’s a one-bid wonder,” Brown joked.
Showing runs in the family. Her three younger brothers, Preston, Riley and Trevor, also show at fairs and Shorthorn breed shows all over the country.
Now the young businesswoman is building her herd. Like her brothers, she bought a cheap steer to start, sold it and continues to buy more, growing the herd in size and quality.
The four teens buy the cows and their parents Christine and Jim provide the bull, feed and pay the overhead costs.
Along with all the things she does on the farm, Brown, who graduated from high school in Flanagan with a class of 39 students, is now a sophomore at Joliet Junior College studying ag business and farm management. When she was at college, her brothers stepped in to care for her cattle, but she’s back for the summer ready to hit the shows.
This time of year, she estimates she spends about 25 hours a week caring for, cleaning and preparing cattle for the shows. In the winter, the cows stay home and she goes out clipping and fitting for others.
Not surprisingly her long-term goal is to manage cattle on a farm or a ranch. It could be dairy cattle — she worked at a dairy farm for three years and enjoys that too.
Amid all this activity, Brown is also cultivating leadership skills by serving as an Illinois Junior Beef Association leader.
On the show circuit this year, her goal to place at the top of at least two shows, although her advice to newcomers is “it’s not always how you place, it’s if you are having fun.” Kicking off the season are the State Preview in Clinton, Illinois, and later this month the 2023 National Junior Shorthorn Show in Des Moines, Iowa, June 18-24.
She says it’s hard to choose a favorite show, but the World Beef Expo might be it. This September the event in Wisconsin includes fitting clinics, judging and a college invitational. It brings people together, she says.
Her travel schedule includes shows in Iowa, Indiana, Texas and Ohio. But at least one is pretty close to home — the Livingston County Agricultural Fair in June is just up the road in Pontiac, Illinois.
“In the summers, it feels like we are at a show every week. But it really is just five or six shows,” she says.