GREENFIELD — Nine-year-old Delaney Truebenbach weighs only 80 pounds, but she led her 1,365-pound Angus heifer around the ring like a champ on Tuesday, taking home the Supreme Grand Champion award at the Hancock County 4-H Fair.
Delaney made local fair history as one of the first to take home the top two overall prizes in one contest at the Beef Show.
She won Grand Champion honors with both her Angus heifer, Sugar, and her Simsolution heifer, Honey.
Honey went on to take Supreme Grand Champion honors, while Sugar won Supreme Reserve Grand Champion, or first and second best overall among all the champions in each breed.
Right after that, Delaney went on to win the Junior Beef Showmanship Award, among second-year 4-H’ers.
It was a big night for a little girl who shows such devotion to the animals on her family’s farm in Knightstown.
“We were thrilled, because she works day in and day out. It proves that hard work pays off,” said her mom, Ashley Truebenbach.
“Delaney can literally be found in the barn after a softball game at 11 p.m at night, so she earned it. She did the work herself, which is what makes a parent happy,” she said.
Delaney led her animals through the arena with confidence and ease on Tuesday.
Handling an animal of that size is no small feat, said Steve Wilson, the beef show superintendent at the fair.
“These animals are large, with steers weighing 1,200 to 1,300 pounds, and heifers can be close to that as well. The (4-H) kids learn to gain confidence working with something that’s much bigger than they are,” Wilson said.
Learning to take care of such big animals instills confidence and teaches kids responsibility, he said.
Twelve-year-old Lanee Swindell of Shirley seemed relaxed and laid back before Tuesday’s Beef Show, where she showed three animals — a Hereford heifer, a Shorthorn heifer and a Shorthorn Plus steer.
About 40 minutes before the event, she slipped into the exhibit hall bathroom to switch into her show clothes — a bright red shirt and dark pair of jeans, paired with her cousin’s sparkly gem-encrusted belt.
“We always have to buy a brand new shirt for each show,” said her mom, Hannah Buckley, just one of a handful of family members hanging out with Lanee around the cattle barns.
Lanee’s stepdad, Kyle Buckley, stayed busy helping to put the finishing touches on her show animals. It’s a meticulous process, he said.
A powder is sprayed onto each animal’s coat to make the hairs stand out, and stray hairs are trimmed with shears to give the hair an even appearance. Next comes fitting, the name for the process of combing the hair so that it spikes up, followed by brushing on a paint that matches the coat color to make it shine.
“That’s to make the coat look flashy. Judges like a lot of hair,” said Buckley, adding that hooves are typically clipped a month or so before a show.
Grooming each animal is an all-hands-on deck event, with family members pitching in to help. “She does all the work raising and training them, but we’re all here to help on show days. It takes a village,” said Buckley, who owns Buckley Livestock in Knightstown.
It seemed all the attention to detail was worth it.
Lanee ended up taking home two gold and blue banners for placing fifth in both the steer and heifer categories with her Shorthorns.
“Normally I feel pretty nervous, but on show day I feel relaxed,” said Lanee, who will be a seventh-grader at Knightstown Intermediate School this fall.
At the Beef Show on Tuesday afternoon, she joined the other 4-H’ers leading their cattle through the 4-H Show Arena, under a judge’s watchful eye.
The animals are shown one breed at a time by age group, with a reserve champion and grand champion awarded in each group.
Later in evening, the champion heifers and steers gathered again in the arena as the judge selected an overall grand champion for heifers and a grand champion for steers.
The 4-H’ers show their animals in groups based on age, until the overall winner is chosen.
After the show, some of the steers will be sold at auction on Friday night while others will return home to be shown at the Indiana State Fair.
Beef Show judge John Jacobs had glowing things to say about each group of cattle that was led into the show arena Tuesday.
“We have national caliber cattle here. You can go to a lot of county fairs and not even come close to the quality of cattle we see here,” he told the packed crowd.
Wilson said there’s a number of things judges are looking for when assessing cattle in the ring.
“They’re looking for skeletal correctness, meaning they can move and walk well. They’re also looking for thickness. It’s a meat product, so they want volume there. They have to have the capacity to produce beef,” he said.
Only steers are marketed for beef, whereas the heifers are used for breeding, said Wilson, so heifers are judged more on overall structural correctness, whereas steers are judged more for thickness and rib shape.
Judges also pay close attention to the cattle’s overall appearance, as well as how well each 4-H’er handles his or her animal.
During the Beef Show, the animals stood at attention as their young handlers scratched the front of their bodies with show sticks, which soothes them.
After multiple groups walked their cattle around the arena in groups based on age, a few animals stood out above the rest.
Kadi Sparks was wiping tears from her eyes after winning Grand Champion on Tuesday night with her steer, Popsmoke, as multiple family members came up to hug her tight.
“I’ve worked really hard for it, and I’ve always dreamed of getting Grand Champion,” she said.
“Me and my dad and my grandpa have dreamed of doing it my whole life,” said Kadi, 16, who will be a junior at Greenfield-Central High School this fall.
Her twin sister, Sky Sparks, was wiping away her own happy tears after her sister’s win. “I think her hard work has finally paid off. She’s out at the barn early in the morning and late at night. If anyone deserves it, it’s her,” she said.
When the show’s over, it’s back to business as usual for these 4-H kids, who quickly start dreaming of next year’s fair.
As the Beef Show was underway, Madison Engleking, 15, was washing down her heifer, Pattycake, in the washing station near the cattle barns — a concrete pad with a dozen hookups for hoses.
At the dairy show the day before, Madison won Supreme Dairy Heifer with another of her animals, Riley, and placed second in senior showmanship.
No longer in her show clothes, the Eastern Hancock teen was covered in suds and mud, with a big smile on her face.
She’s been working with cattle since she was 2 years old.
“I just love all their personalities. They’re so goofy,” she said. “They bring me so much joy.”
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The ever-popular Beef Show took place before a packed house Tuesday at the Hancock County 4-H Fair.
Just before the show, fair organizers recognized the three outgoing 4-Hers who have shown beef for 10 years: Walker Thornton, Jordyn Wickard and Bella Witte.
Scholarship winners were also announced.
The annual Keith Brown Scholarship award went to Abby Elsbury.
The Couch Scholarship Award went to Jordyn Wickard, who also won the coveted Max Gentry Award for Outstanding 4-H Achievement and Community Service.