SPRING PRAIRIE Bob Bleser will long remember the 2011 Walworth County Fair in a hit-the-jackpot kind of way. His older daughter Bridget, 15, won grand champion in the beef carcass judging category for the 4-H junior department. His younger daughter, Brooke, 13, won grand reserve champion in the same category.
The girls, both members of the Spring Prairie 4-H Club, are entering the category again this year. The beef carcass contest results are tonight at 7 p. m.
Bleser, a third-generation farmer who raises red angus/limousine and red angus/limousine/charloais crossbreeds on “Rock and Knoll Acres LLC,” his farm along Wisconsin Highway 120 in Spring Prairie, said in no other fair category does winning depend so much upon what nature gives.
“When it comes to other projects in competitions, well, if you're in knitting, you can make a different loop, and if you’re in woodworking, you can add another coat of shellac, but here, you're literally at the mercy of what the goods are inside the animal. You get the best quality animal you can, but you just can't manipulate that,” he said.
Winning entries are the product of good genetics—as in how muscled is the beef—and good taste—as in how do you like your steak? A judge in the beef carcass contest typically reviews each cattle contestant with the eyes of a butcher.
“They look for thickness of meat, a big rib eye (section), thickness over the top, a good ratio of fat and muscle,” said Doc Sterken, beef superintendent for the junior department at the fair for about five years. “They also want a nice package to look at, a well-groomed animal that makes for a good product.”
Sterken, whose own children once showed beef cattle at the fair, counted some 75 contestants in the beef carcass category this year. That’s a decline, brought about in part, he said, by a decreasing number of farms as urban sprawl creeps in.
Additionally, the project has gotten expensive, with calves of good breeds costing around $600, plus feed costs, which can mount—particularly after a tough growing season like the one Wisconsin just experienced.
Bleser noted feed corn, which generally runs about $2.50 per bushel, has now been running $8 per bushel because of the drought’s effect on the crop. That means, he said, the typical costs of about $250 for feeding an animal would run up to $800 now.
Still, category can bring some rewards. Sterken said area buyers of the winning carcasses are generous, and if winners get $1.50 per pound or so for the meat on a 1,300 pound animal, that’s a good chunk of change for a teen to put aside for college expenses.
But there’s more. Sterken said the project teaches 4-Hers about working together, developing a sense of responsibility, and seeing that the work you put in often pays off.
“It certainly teaches a work ethic, which in the younger generation isn’t always there,” Bleser added. “I've watched the girls gain confidence, motivation and a sense of appreciation for the buyers. As a parent, that’s great to see.”
If you go:
The Beef Show is at 8 a.m. Thurs., Aug. 30 in the Activity Center of the fairgrounds. Beef carcass results will be announced at 7 p.m. in the Elkhorn Area High School, 482 E. Geneva St., Elkhorn.