Looking for a simple answer on what makes a grand champion heifer? Don’t ask 15-year-old Jackie Sleichter.
She will say:
• A big swoopy belly;
• Nice legs that can move around nicely, cat-like, so they are not just walking around like boards;
• Nice and wide from behind and not narrow;
• Nice clean throat and neck and not fat;
• And hair like Cindy Crawford’s.
“When you first get it as a baby, what you want to look for is just the fundamental part of the calf that you don’t think will cause problems in the future,” she said. “One of the first things I look at, as a baby is their structure in general. Do they look good? Are there any concern spots? Do I think it will get straight legged as they get older? Are they wide enough?”
From there, she moves on to the shape.
“Then I move to the body. Do I think they will have enough body?” she said. “Also, the head and neck make a big difference. If they have a supper chubby chest and neck area, that is probably not going to get any better as a big cow.”
Helping mold that animal as it grows is feed and exercise.
“A lot of what people who are just trying to get into the industry overlook is feeding, because that impacts the calf so much,” she said.
Jackie, the daughter of Jeff and Meredith Sleichter, has gained a lot of knowledge over the years, showing her first heifer when she was seven years old at the Central Kansas Free Fair.
“Jackie is a short order cook every single day for her heifers,” Meredith said. “Every single one of them has its own individualized feed ration.”
“And that can change on a daily basis,” Jackie said.
Her first experience was taking Kit Kat to the Central Kansas Free Fair eight years ago.
“I showed her with a pink halter,” she said.
This year her Charolais breeding heifer was a prize winner at the Central Kansas Free Fair.
Jackie’s knowledge and hard work also paid off at the Kansas State Fair where Mercedes was the grand champion among 273 entries.
Sleichter has been grooming Mercedes since she bought her over a year ago.
Using money she had saved at county fairs selling fat steers and market hogs, she paid the $8,500 for her at five months of age.
“She was fairly cheap for a show heifer,” Jackie said.
Up next for Mercedes is the American Royal in Kansas City at the end of October and then to Louisville, Ky, for the North American Livestock Exposition in November.
After that, Mercedes is expecting to become a mom in February with a Maine bull named Simplify.
Jackie entered three heifers in the Kansas State Fair which is an open competition.
Sleichter didn’t expect the grand champion.
“We figured she’d do pretty good,” Jackie said. “She had been winning at shows in the spring and winter.”
“Winning is truly a once in a lifetime thing,” Meredith said.
Sleichter and her dad have about 100 head in the cow/calf operation north of Abilene.
Jackie keeps track of her animals through the Supervised Agriculture Experience through FFA.
Sleichter has four show heifers.
“Right now is about the time you start buying new babies so I already have two new babies for next year which makes it six,” she said.
She is usually in the barn right after school and starts doing homework at 9 or 10 when she is finished feeding and grooming.
Weekends she spends working her show animals.
While conformation in cattle is important, Jackie will tell you that hair is equally important. Hair can be used to hide flaws visually.
“Every day I will wash my heifers at least once ,” she said. “If we are preparing for a big show it will get bumped up to twice a day.”
After she blow-dries the hair, she will apply a special hairspray she formulates herself.
“I’ll work it in with a bunch of different types of brushes. Those brushes help stimulate the hair to grow,” she said. “It also trains the hair so that it lays a certain direction and is nice and smooth.”
During the summer the show cattle are kept in a giant cooler where the temperature is set at 58 degrees which helps the hair grow during the hot summers.
Jackie said the key is keeping the heifer trim, to help them look youthful and fresh.
She credits her older brother Riley and neighbor Zane Ward for helping her along the way.
Sleichter, a sophomore at Abilene High School, said she plans to go to college but has not made definite plans.
Contact Tim Horan at email@example.com.