Scissors, clippers, hair dryers and Aqua Net are usually reserved for beauty salons, but on the first Saturday of the Iowa State Fair, they are used to bring beauty to the best bovines in the cattle barn.

Governor Kim Reynolds and Tyler Pudenz lead Jet out of the livestock barn during the parade to the Governor's Steer Show. Pudenz said she usually doesn't get nervous until she enters the ring before a show. Photo credit: Joseph L. Murphy, Iowa Soybean Association

Governor Kim Reynolds and Tyler Pudenz lead Jet out of the livestock barn during the parade to the Governor's Steer Show. Pudenz said she usually doesn't get nervous until she enters the ring before a show. Photo credit: Joseph L. Murphy, Iowa Soybean Association

For 36 years the Governor's Charity Steer Show has been a staple of the Fair allowing youth to show their projects in the ring with local celebrities, state officials and the Governor. The event is part pomp and circumstance and part friendly competition, but it is all for a great cause.

This year $294,000 was raised for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Iowa during a record-setting auction. The money raised benefits the Ronald McDonald Houses of Des Moines, Iowa City and Sioux City. All the houses are located near hospitals and provide a “home away from home” for families of seriously ill children being treated at the hospitals. The Iowa Beef Industry Council and the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association sponsors the annual steer show and auction, which was hosted by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

"I’m so proud of them (the youth showing at the event)," Reynolds said before the show. "They put a lot of work and dedication into raising these steers. Then they turn them over at auction to support an important cause like the Ronald McDonald House. It says a lot about the young people that are showing today."

Since its inception in 1983, the Governor’s Charity Steer Show has raised over $3.5 million for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Iowa.

This year's event featured 25 steers that were carefully cleaned, sculpted and manicured by the youth that raised them, family members and friends for their moment in the spotlight. Over 2,000 people filled the Pioneer Livestock Pavilion to watch as celebrities and youth paraded their steers around the ring while being judged in three categories: Judge’s Choice, People's Choice and Showmanship.


Tyler Pudenz, an incoming freshman at Gilbert High School, was lucky enough to show her steer, "Jet," with Reynolds.

"It's really exciting," she said about the opportunity. "We were at home when we got a call telling us that we were selected to be with the Governor."

She has been showing cattle in 4-H since she was in third grade. She said her favorite part of showing cattle was spending time with family and meeting others with the same interests.

"It’s a family event," Pudenz said while her father and others put the finishing touches on Jet before the show. "I’ve made a lot of friends over the years I’ve been showing."

Reynolds said the Governor's Charity Steer Show is one of the highlights for her during the Fair.

"I’m pretty competitive. I’ve won twice. So the Lt. Governor and I had to shake hands and part. This is a competition. So let the best steer win," Reynolds said with a laugh before entering the show ring.

Reynolds and Pudenz fell short of winning the show this year but both said they had a fun time.

"Chip," a steer sponsored by the Iowa County Beef Supporters, won the "Judge’s Choice" award this year. Tate Manahl was selected for the title of "People's Choice." Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig earned the Showmanship award.

Article originally published for the Iowa Food & Family Project. You can find out more about the Iowa Food & Family Project by clicking here.

Enduring the grind of calving season

The rolling hills of Bryan Reed’s farm near Albia provided a serene backdrop as cows and calves basked in the spring sun on Friday.

Reed navigated his utility vehicle through the pastures checking the health of calves that were born just days earlier. With the sun shining you could see a spring in Reed’s step as he finished his daily chores. That hasn’t been the case for the majority of his calving season though.

A pasture next to Reed's farm is speckled with cattle during calving season.

A pasture next to Reed's farm is speckled with cattle during calving season.

The calendar says spring but Mother Nature refuses to close the door on winter. Snow, ice and rain have made this calving season especially tricky.

“My coat still shows signs of the challenges earlier this week. I had days where I was rotating coats every few hours while trying to stay dry and warm,” Reed said while looking at a pasture speckled with new calves and their mothers. “The sun makes a difference when you are checking calves and doing chores.”

Reed says that every calving season is different. 

Reed says that every calving season is different. 

Calving season starts in mid-February at Reed's farm and goes through late May. It isn't a surprise that winter is a difficult time to care for livestock, but some winters are more comfortable than others.

"It happens regardless of the weather. It's going to be going on 24/7 whether the weather is cooperating or not. Whether you are sick or not," Reed said.

Reed recalled several years ago when a fight with the flu came during a rush of calves. 

"My wife drove me to the emergency room because I got run down," he said. "They gave me IV fluids and I was back home working with the heifers later that night. You have one chance to keep that calf alive and that is my paycheck for the year."

During a typical spring calving season, Reed expects about 240 calves and another 60 during the fall. But over the years he has discovered that there is nothing ordinary about calving season. 

"Everyday is different and has different issues to deal with," he said. "Some days you are an OB/GYN assisting with difficulties in delivery. Other days you are a vet trying to figure out what's wrong with a calf to help it."

Reed also added nutritionist to the list of his job responsibilities during calving season to make sure that the mothers are getting the nutrients needed to give birth and take care of their calves.

"Sometimes you even have to be a rodeo clown dodging a protective mother while helping a calf," Reed said as he scanned the pasture filled with mothers and babies.

Even though the grind of calving season means work around the clock through challenging weather conditions he wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's what I do and I don't know anything different. When you turn the cows and calves out into the pasture for the summer, you can see how good they are doing. It makes all the challenges of getting them started worthwhile," he said. "To know I'm feeding someone else and that person doesn't have to fight these battles gets me through it. I'll be cold and muddy and worn out if that means someone else can have safe affordable food."

Story and photos by Joseph L. Murphy

Calving season a 40 year journey

After glancing at the TV one last time, Duane Ohnemus pulled the laces of his leather boots tight. The TV is the first thing he glances at when he wakes up this time of year and the last thing he sees before going to bed. While most of America is watching the morning news or a recorded mini-series, Ohnemus is watching a live feed of cows in his barn.

Ohnemus and many other farmers and ranchers across the country are in the midst of the 2016 calving season —a two to three-month process that demands constant attention and braving the harsh weather. Continue reading by clicking the photo story below:

Adobe Spark Page

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association.

The new shepherds on the block

This time of year Nikki and Rueben Sprung bring a new definition to parenting. For four months starting in January, they tend to their flock of sheep and care for newborn lambs.

The job isn’t for the faint of heart as they work around the clock to keep everything in order. As days stretch into nights, they proficiently work to keep the sheep fed while always watching the health of newborn lambs. All while also taking care of their cattle and hogs.

“We’re good together,” Nikki said about working with her husband on a daily basis.

”To work with your best friend and your spouse is great,” Rueben added. “I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else.”

Follow this link to see more photos and continue reading the story:

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association.


Celebrating Iowa's county fairs

What makes Iowa county fairs great? I’m guessing if you ask that question to a group of people you would get quite a few different answers.

While I explored five different county fairs this year, and many others in the past, I’ve always asked myself that same question. I’ve photographed and written about many of these fairs over the past 12 years working for farm organizations and have always came up with the same primary answer. County fairs are a place to showcase hard work and community spirit here in the Heartland!

Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey will visit about 30 county fairs across the state this year. For him, showing cattle in 4-H competitions at the Dickinson County Fair when he was young was a great experience.

"Fairs are an important part of the culture of our counties and rural areas,”Northey said. “They are a great opportunity for kids to showcase projects they have been working on for months and also for the public to learn more about modern agriculture. Showing at the fair fought me so much and I still have friends from my time in 4-H.”

Shannon Latham, Alexander, said the Butler County Fair was always a highlight of her summer growing up.

“It seriously was the social event of the season,”she said. “I enjoyed the camaraderie as much as the competition. I learned it’s just as important to be a gracious winner as it is to be a gracious loser.”

Setting project goals in 4-H inspired her to try new things when she was young and she said now she can look back at those experiences and see that it still helps her in managing multiple tasks and finding motivation in her role as vice president for Latham Seeds.

The magic of the county fair lives on in Latham’s children. Whether it is working with her teenage son on a woodworking project or helping her daughter show livestock.

“This year my daughter showed rabbits, goats and her horse,”Latham said. “She told me next year she wants to show chickens because ‘it’s always good to try new things.’ Don’t you just love it when kids actually repeat something you’ve said? I couldn’t think of a legitimate response to dissuade her, so we’re in the process of building a chicken coop!”

Visiting with old friends and representing the community also draws Latham back to the fair year after year.

“Now that I’m an adult, county fair week remains a time to catch up with friends and make new acquaintances who share similar interests,”Latham said. “I also spend a great more deal of my time during county fair week serving others. I volunteer in the 4-H food stand and help promote Franklin County as a member of the Tourism Committee.”