It’s really all about the hair.
At the Baldwin County Fair next week the livestock will glisten. Their coats will be shiny and soft. And those updos? Some of them are the work of professionals. …
It’s really all about the hair.
At the Baldwin County Fair next week the livestock will glisten. Their coats will be shiny and soft. And those updos? Some of them are the work of professionals.
Yes. Professional hairstyling for cattle. It’s a thing.
For Jacey Adkins, 14, of Summerdale, it’s one of the things she does best.
Last year her heifer, named Trainwreck in honor of her family farm “Off the Rails Farm” was grand champion at the Santa Rosa Fair. In the months since, Jacey has worked diligently with her cows every day to bring home a win from the Baldwin County Fair this week.
Her cows, four in all, are walked daily. They are bathed daily. She sprays them with conditioner. They dry, not in the sweltering Alabama sun like the rest of us common folk, but rather under the shade of a custom built shed with fans blowing their lovely locks to and fro.
The shade and air movement between the follicles helps the hair grow longer and faster, Jacey explains.
But this much divine diva presence is certainly not drama free.
It’s been a long summer that you could say, went somewhat off the rails at Off the Rails Farm. And this week is crunch time in the Adkins house.
“I’m excited, I have a new heifer, that’s really exciting,” Jacey says. Nearby her mom grimaces and smiles. The countdown to show time has begun.
Learning the Ropes
The six kids of the Adkins family have long been involved in local scouts and 4-H activities. Her mom used to show lambs. Her brother has shown chickens and goats. Four years ago mom Cari Adkins suggested Jacey try showing heifers. It might be fun, she said.
The long hours and dedication are more than fun for Jacey. She said these animals are part of her heart.
“I just love working with them. It’s calming,” she said. “These animals rely on me. That’s nice to know.”
During that first show Jacey prepped and worked with a cow she borrowed from a local farmer and won $400 in winnings. She put that together with chore and birthday money to save for a cow of her very own.
After months of research, she landed on British White Cattle as her breed of choice. The family drove to a breeder in North Alabama to make the deal.
The asking price was $1,500. While her parents waited away from the negotiating table, Jacey told the farmer in no uncertain terms that she had saved $1,000 and that was what she was willing, and able, to pay.
He agreed that this budding businesswoman should have her way. Jacey brought home her first cow, Shimmer, and together they won the title of supreme champion at the Baldwin County Fair in 2015. Afterwards Shimmer sold for a cool $2,500.
Jacey continued to work and save and headed to the auction again, this time for a calf she would name Trainwreck. Despite her name, Trainwreck was a superstar who won several competitions, most recently named grand champion at the Santa Rosa Fair.
“At that show, no one could compete with her,” Jacey said. “That was a great day.”
When the fair season ended, at just 2-years-old Trainwreck would retire at the top of her game. By fall of 2017 she would be too old to show again. Jacey planned to use the heifer as a 4-H breeding project and hopefully show Trainwreck and her calf on the 2017-18 fair circuit.
The teen went back to work, researching and saving. She tracked the genetic histories of possible semen donors for Trainwreck. The heifer, she says, has a larger front end and a smaller back end, a trait that could be balanced out in a calf with the right bloodline.
Finally, she picked a donor and Trainwreck was artificially inseminated in November of 2016. The baby would arrive in August, 2017.
The morning of her birth Trainwreck headed out into the back fields and never returned at feeding time. That night, Jacey went to find her. When she did, the afterbirth was still hanging from Trainwreck but the calf was nowhere to be seen.
When Jacey and her parents finally found the baby, it was still. Her father and mother gave the calf mouth-to-mouth. The air went in but the lungs didn’t fill. Instead, the calf’s stomach did.
Trainwreck’s baby was born without a set of lungs – an unfortunate genetic defect common to the breed.
The loss was devastating for the family.
“There was just nothing we could do,” Jacey said.
Still, she continued on. Jacey began to look online for another heifer to show, now just one month before the fair.
Her parents agreed to put money toward the purchase as well as a gift for her 14th birthday which falls just days before the fair. Jacey had worked too hard, too long to stop now, Cari said. Without a new calf she would essentially be taking a year off from the shows.
But calf sales are few in the fall. And most of the breeds the family wanted were raised far from the Deep South.
She found one online, in Ohio, and entered the auction. After three days of waiting, and hoping, Jacey lost the bid.
She searched again. And one week before the fair, she and her father headed to Iowa to pick up her new heifer, a 500-pound Maine-Anjou, who came registered with the name Miss Angel, a moniker Jacey petitioned to change to Maineline.
Maineline has never been walked on a lead. Maineline, at six-months-old, had just been separated from her mother. Jacey had a lot of work to do.
Jacey will enter the ring in four days with Maineline.
This morning, Maineline is hiding behind another cow when Jacey approaches. Jacey pulls the lead forward. Maineline pulls the lead back. Jacey eventually wins the tug of war as Maineline steps tentatively forward, never fully submitting to the directions of her new owner.
But, Jacey is confident. She and Maineline will click. She will show well. The teen has spent the last year skipping sleepovers with friends and vacations. Every morning she is up with the sun to bathe, groom and care for her animals. She is determined to do her best.
The teen, who is homeschooled, aspires to be an agricultural engineer and design barns for livestock. Her 4-H heifer breeding project will help build her resume. Three beef cows she cares for, shows and sells will help build her coffers.
The threesome, Buddy, Vegas and Andre, have been with Jacey since nearly birth. She bottle-fed two of them and now they follow her around the field like puppies rather than nearly 1,000-pound animals.
She lines all three up every day to wash and groom their soft, luxurious black hair. In the days immediately before the fair, those who need it will be treated to a dye treatment. Natural black cow hair turns red in the sun. Jacey uses human hair dye to return them to their natural shade of midnight – four bottles per cow.
An insider tip, cow hair dye is more expensive and doesn’t last nearly as long as human hair dye, Jacey says.
Each cow will be clipped and styled too. Jacey and her mom do the manicuring though some competitors will hire professional groomers at a cost of $200 - $500, per cow.
Is it cheating?
“I don’t mind,” Cari says. “When we go head to head with a professionally groomed animal and win, I feel pretty good about that.”
Eventually, Buddy, Vegas and Andre will be sold, for meat.
“We’ve been teaching the kids that everybody has their job,” Cari says. “Just because they’re not going to be with us long doesn’t mean we can’t love and care for them.”
In addition to having gorgeous animals, Jacey has to show the judges that she is a pro at caring for them. She hauls out giant books that contain records for food, weight, vaccinations, vet visits and more. She printed out every bit of research she has on each cow’s lineage. She talks about her animals much like a mother talks about her newborn, every hiccup, every diaper. Jacey knows her cows.
This week, between the brushing and the hair dye and the primping, Jacey and Maineline will continue to walk, and walk and walk, until the teen has determined she will set up in front of the judges without issue.
On their first walk, Maineline, who was unaccustomed to wearing a halter, reared back and landed on Jacey.
“She’s gotten better though,” Jacey says cheerfully.
Cari sighs. Four days to go.