altAt the recent Ozark Empire Fair in Springfield, Mo., a young friend sought me out to tell me her good news.

“Guess what?” my friend Payton said with a big grin on her face and her show stick in her hand. “I got my picture taken!”

I had seen her receive a pink banner for being named reserve champion in the junior show and watched as her parents help her set her heifer so it would look just right for her official fair photo. As I watched the process, I remembered I’d taken pictures of her mother a time or two when she was a junior livestock exhibitor.

I told Payton I was very proud of her and I got a quick high-five and a hug before she scampered off to get ready for showmanship. Not long ago, Payton didn’t even know me, but we have become fast friends, so I was honored she wanted to tell me about her day.

While talking to her parents, I relayed what Payton had said and they laughed. I guess at 5 a.m., she told her mom she really, really wanted to have her picture taken at the fair. Payton got her picture taken another time or two during the fair; her wish came true.

I also had the opportunity to catch up with a couple of other young ladies I’ve known since they were tots. I remembered taking their pictures over the years as well.

Ranae and Lauren were showing at our county fair when they were just 5 or 6 years old. Ranae’s hog would take off in the ring and she would be hot on his tail. Her legs were a little shorter than they are now, but she kept up pretty well. Lauren’s grin was wider than the brim of the cowboy hat she wore as she led her horse into the ring for the first time. For such a tiny little girl, she had no fear of that big Quarter Horse.

During my nearly 25-year career as a journalist, I’ve taken countless photos, but my favorites have always been the ones with kids and animals, be it at a county fair or a rodeo.

Kids don’t realize it, but they typically have very expressive faces. There are shots that show a look of determination, concentration or even pain – be it pain from getting a foot stepped on or from knowing that is the last time they will see the steer, lamb, hog or goat they have cared for. Then there are the smiles. A child always seems to smile a little bigger and brighter when they’re doing what they love, even if they don’t get their picture taken in front of a backdrop.

There’s little to be happy about these days for some people. Drought conditions, hay and cattle prices, and everything in between have many farmers and ranchers feeling like crying instead of smiling.

Things might seem bleak, but there’s plenty of reasons to smile and be thankful.

Farmers and ranchers get to work around livestock, drive the real version of the equipment they played in the dirt with when they were kids, watch things grow, help new life get a good start and no one cares if you get dirty because it’s kind of expected.

The biggest reason farmers and ranchers should smile? Those young people who are leading calves, lambs or kids, or driving hogs at a fair, or that youngster who always wants to take a ride on the tractor or go with you to check cows.

Seeing kids who want to be involved in agriculture lets me know there are brighter days ahead for our industry and that our way of life will continue, despite the hard times and gloomy days.

When you’ve had a rough day, close your eyes and picture why you love farming or ranching. Let the memories become a sideshow in your mind and you’ll remember why you chose this way of life. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Julie Turner-Crawford is a native of Dallas County, Mo., where she grew up on her family’s farm. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Julie, call 1-866-532-1960 or by email at [email protected]


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