Cotton candy. Popcorn. Carnival rides and games. These attractions are not the only reasons Tillamook farmers attend the Tillamook County Fair. For them, the main focus is competing in animal showmanship and dairy cow judging events, against big time contenders from across the state. It’s a storied tradition that’s been passed down through generations of farmers.
Participating in the fair is a family affair. Kids begin studying dairy cows and training to show their best-looking animals, months in advance. Parents prepare to attend four days of competitions, in support. In this tightly-knit community on the picturesque Oregon coast, the entire summer suspensefully leads up to the annual gathering, which is why many farmers call it “the highlight of the season.”
This year, Tillamook farmer brothers Josh and Tyler Seals, and their younger, up-and-coming cousin Coltan Seals, were a few of the teenage cow experts, who swooped in to steal the show.
On the last day of the fair, the Seals boys put their game faces on for dairy cow judging.
The competition from 4-H and FFA– a national youth program that teaches life skills – is for dairy enthusiasts, in grades four through 12. Competitors must meticulously observe cows of different ages and breeds, and rank them according to their physical attributes. The feet, legs, height, body capacity and ribs are indicators of a dairy cow’s potential.
Tapping into their vast knowledge, gained from hours of studying, and a lifetime of growing up on the farm, 16-year-old Josh and 15-year-old Tyler scrawled their rankings on a test card, stood up and began to pace.
Back and forth across a grassy field, they softly muttered to themselves, momentarily pausing to read from a spiral bound notebook. The brothers were practicing their “reasons” – talking points that would explain their logic for how they evaluated the animals. Reasons must be delivered to a seasoned judge. This year, it was an older gentleman with decades of experience, an encyclopedic knowledge of cows and a furrowed brow.
“It’s nerve wracking,” said Denise Porter, a former dairy cow judging national champion, who was there to judge the competition and cheer on her daughter Robyn. “We had to be little professionals by this age.”
Denise said the 4-H event teaches young people how to analyze a scenario, form an argument and verbally defend it with poise and confidence. These skills serve the kids throughout their lives, on and off the farm.
The animal can sense your energy, so you have to remain calm.”
After the judging competition, it was off to master showmanship, one of the Seals’ brothers favorite parts of the fair.
Josh and Tyler showed their own dairy cows. Then, to demonstrate their mastery of each species and their prowess in handling them, they showed the species of their competitors, including dairy cows, beef cows, dairy goats, meat goats, sheep and swine.
The boys’ aunt, Becky Seals, who’s a Tillamook farmer-owner and adult show-woman, said the sport requires a special kind of person. “The animal can sense your energy, so you have to remain calm.”
The Seals brothers have had years of practice. They began raising cows at age six, and showing them at age 10.
The passion comes from their grandfather, Bearl, a cow-loving Tillamook farmer-owner who gave the boys their first show cows. Josh’s girl was named Strawberry. Tyler’s was Rose, and this year, he competed with Rose’s daughter, Daisy.
When it was time for the winners to be announced, the Seals arrived at the ring in their crisply ironed uniforms. Suspense hung in the air as lighthearted sounds from the fair could be heard in the distance. The boys stood tall, a twinge of nervousness in their stance, as they shifted between stoicism and smiles, occasionally making small talk with friends who were also their competitors.
In the senior class of master showmanship, Josh took first place for leading multiple species around the ring with the utmost talent. Tyler followed closely behind, winning runner up. And their younger cousin Coltan earned the title of Junior Champion with his heifer, which advanced him to the Western National Jersey Show at the Oregon State Fair.
The ribbons weren’t won by luck. The boys fully earned them.
When you own a dairy farm, showing dairy cows is just what you do. It’s a way of life.”
All summer long, Josh trained to show his animals – while simultaneously logging 40 hours per week at the Bureau of Land Management, and handling his typical farm chores. The Seals’ mother, Kim, said Tyler’s dedication was unparalleled. He devoted entire summer days to practicing for the fair. The brothers even traveled to other farms to inspect and study animals, in preparation for the judging event.
All the hard work did not seem to faze the Seals. When asked why they choose to compete, the boys chuckled, as if to imply the question had never crossed their minds. Josh said, when you own a dairy farm, showing dairy cows is just what you do. It’s a way of life.
Throughout the fair, the brothers stayed busy in the barn, taking care of their animals. But even though they didn’t go for a spin in the Tilt-a-Whirl or toss rings for oversized stuffed animals, Josh and Tyler found time between chores to hit the Tillamook Ice Cream booth, a staple at the fair.
Tyler ate a cone of Mint Chocolate Chip, but had a difficult time identifying his favorite flavor. “Basically, they’re all my favorite,” he said with a smile.