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Mooove over, midway fans—it’s a bovine bonanza
In the 15 minutes before showing his three heifers, Robert Nixon rushes around his stall in the cattle pavilion at the State Fair of Virginia getting ready.
The 16-year-old sprays a hair product that makes the black coat of the heifers more shiny, then he brushes and blow-dries their hair and even takes an electric razor to their tails to make them smoother.
And he scoops one heifer’s manure out of the hay one last time.
The Nixon family is used to this. They travel all over the country showing their cattle, hitting as many as nine competitions each year. Robert’s been competing since he was 9, and his mother competed as a child, as well.
And it’s worth it.
This time, Robert walks away with a top title as owner of the junior grand champion female Angus at the fair.
While plenty of fairgoers focus on midway rides and fried foods, others keep their eye on the fair’s agricultural roots.
The State Fair has several competitions for cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, pigeons and doves over its 10-day-run at The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County.
Over the course of the fair, more than 700 youth and adult competitors will show 1,600 animals.
Robert and his family live on Glenmary Farm in Orange County, between the Rapidan River and Clark Mountain.
The State Fair isn’t too far from home for the family compared to other competitions they go to around the country, but they get a hotel nearby and dedicate serious time to getting ready.
Robert said he arrived at the fair about 7 a.m. Wednesday for the 11 a.m. competition, giving him time to wash, dry and oil the heifers’ coats.
The cattle are fed continually throughout the day—among the three of them, they can eat 50 pounds. And since what goes in must come out, Robert spends a lot of time cleaning up after them, sometimes even in the ring while they’re being shown.
But looking bigger helps them in competition.
“You want them to look wide and soft-centered,” says Kim Nixon, Robert’s mom, who helps him get the heifers ready.
Robert brought three heifers to show at the fair this year, as well as swine, which he’ll show this weekend. Two of the heifers were born last September and one was born in April, putting them in two different age classes for competition.
Since Robert had two heifers in the same round, his friend Hunter Watkins, 16, helped out, by walking one of them around the ring for him.
When he graduates from high school, Robert plans to attend either mechanical school, business school, or both, and then return to the farm.
But on competition day, he’s focused on getting his heifers in the best shape possible.
When it’s time for his first two heifers—the ones born in September—to enter the ring, Robert and Hunter each lead a cow into the gated area. Robert’s two heifers compete against three others.
The judge, Gary Minish of Keswick, carefully examines each entry.
The one Robert leads around takes second, and the one Hunter leads for Robert takes fifth. If Robert is disappointed, he doesn’t show it.
After a few more classes, it’s time for Robert to show his third heifer, the one born in April. This time, he faces only one other competitor.
And he wins first place.
That means his heifer moves on to the junior grand champion competition, along with five others.
Minish comments that it’s a “nice lineup of Angus heifers” that are “very high quality.”
And once again, Robert’s heifer is victorious.
Mom Kim is standing just outside the ring with her camera, already holding Robert’s ribbon collection, ready to add another.
This time, he gets a purple banner in addition to a ribbon.
After taking a few pictures and posing with the “champion” sign and backdrop the fair has set up near the ring, Robert leads his winning heifer back to her stall.
“For her, it means everything,” said Kim Nixon. “She’s a really good heifer—the judge called her maternal, broody, big with substance, thick and muscling.”
Robert is proud, too.
“Most of the time you don’t win, so when you do, it’s exciting,” he said.
Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413