After attending the North American International Livestock Exposition show in Kentucky earlier this month, Dawson County Junior High School eighth grader Olivia Graham has gained both agricultural experience and multiple accolades.
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During the livestock competition at Louisville’s Kentucky Exposition Center, Olivia’s beef heifer, Holly, was named the reserve grand champion in the junior Belted Galloway category.
In addition to her first place win, Olivia scored three other second-place wins, and she even competed with adults in the open Belted Galloway section, too.
Earlier this year, Olivia was also selected to participate in the Belted Galloway Society National Junior Council Board, an honor only allocated to six students in the country.
She’s nurtured her passion for cows over the past several years, helped by grandparents who own a small pasture, her parents and other 4-H mentors.
“Showing cattle is something I can do instead of something like playing a sport,” Olivia wrote in a letter requesting local sponsorships before nationals. “Also, when I was sick [with cancer], animals were what helped me feel better. So, I love spending my time with them.”
Five years ago, the teen began showing dairy cows before switching to an Angus steer calf for a year. Meanwhile, she’d always enjoyed riding by a pasture of Belted Galloways, which are not as common in the southeastern United States.
“She wanted something that nobody else had…something that was a little bit different and stood out more. The community is small, and they’ve been watching her shows and her success,” her mother, Maggie previously said.
Olivia said she was also drawn to this breed of cows, nicknamed Belties, because of their “big and fluffy” appearance.
Fast forward to Olivia’s November competition, where she described being enthralled by the “magnitude of the atmosphere” and the biggest show ring, which was between three and four times the size to which she’s usually accustomed.
With the large arena and what Olivia called “tough competition,” it took all of her family being in the right place to help guide her as she and Heifer prepared for the show.
During the show, judges asked multiple questions about genetics and feed, something for which Olivia said she’d prepared.
Since purchasing her first cows Holly and Hazel, Olivia has been a member of the Junior Belted Galloway Society. Their junior program provides resources related to genetics, such as straws for her to artificially inseminate her heifers.
Through those efforts, Hazel became pregnant and gave birth to a bull calf named Duke in October, Olivia said.
“I liked meeting new people,” she added of her overall experience. “Since Belted Galloways are in the northern part of the country, I met a lot of people from Maine and Rhode Island.”
She’s ever mindful of how Dawson-area locals helped her get to Kentucky. After word spread about Olivia’s sponsorship letter and national goals, Maggie elaborated that “quite a few sponsors” took money to the 4-H office, helping her daughter raise about $2,000 toward going to the livestock show.
“Thank you, everyone who helped me get to where I did,” Olivia said.
Her family went with her to nationals more for the experience and not necessarily expecting awards, so they’re ecstatic.
“It’s a huge sense of pride for dad and I both,” Maggie said. “We took her to Kentucky about four years ago right when she started showing cows…She had told us that ‘I’ll show on the green shavings [in Louisville].’”
They didn’t doubt that Olivia would, but Maggie said they didn’t realize “how driven she was and how quick she’d make it happen.”
It’s with that same sense of drive that Olivia aspires to become a large animal veterinarian for her future career.
After getting home from nationals, she’s preparing for a few shows in December and then a stacked competition schedule through January and February, tapering off in March.
Meanwhile, Olivia continues to diligently handle the daily ins-and-outs of owning livestock.
In this case, that meant feeding her cows at the end of the interview, a job her mother called “a 24/7/365” kind of deal.