Ashley Pugh is a 13-year-old cheer co-captain at Slaughter Community Charter School. The kids at school wouldn’t be surprised to see her at the top of a pyramid or sticking the landing of a running round-off. They might be a little more surprised to see her guiding an 1,800-pound red Brahman bull into the ring with little more than a leather strap and a tool that looks like a metal chopstick.
Ashley’s skills landed her on top of the beef competition after being named the Supreme Beef Showmanship Champion on Saturday at the Feliciana Livestock Show.
Bobby Bingham, county agent in East Feliciana and St. Helena parishes, said the annual show featured 118 animals shown by 57 4-H and FFA competitors from West and East Feliciana and Woodville, Mississippi. In addition to beef cattle, competitors showed dairy animals, goats, lambs, market animals, poultry and rabbits.
The show is a collaborative effort of the Feliciana Livestock Club and the LSU AgCenter Extension Offices in East and West Feliciana parishes. Livestock Club board members include Mary Godke, Joe Lamartiniere, Kyle Lockhart, Sam Rachal, Jeff Gardner, Ashley Bush, Lamar Pugh, Matt Ewing, Robert Triche, Denise Smith and Tiger Olsen. The Extension staffers are Elaina Vercher, Dawn Barnett, Faye Ritchie and Bingham.
Ashley is a lot like many of the young people who raise and show livestock in the Felicianas. She started young and has a strong family livestock pedigree. Her cheering squad includes her mother, uncle and grandparents. Few words are spoken when she tries to explain why the softball pitcher and piano player also shows massive bulls and heifers. Instead the entire family just turned to the white-haired man in overalls sitting in the corner — Pawpaw.
Pawpaw is Lamar Pugh Sr., a veteran cattle industry buyer who sits on the Livestock Board. Ashley Pugh said, “My Pawpaw came to me one day and told me that I was going to start showing and I did.”
She said, "I was scared at first. ... You have to believe in showing. If you are afraid of cows, they know it, and they bully you because they know you are afraid of them."
So the kid they call the “country cheerleader” is becoming a master of showmanship. She’s much bolder than her years and says she would like to take her skills and become a lawyer someday. Again, all eyes turn to Pawpaw. He’s hoping to raise a veterinarian.
Across the arena, another grandpa is eyeing a 10-year-old in a battle of wills with a grey Brahman bull who is not convinced of the power of the chopstick moving tool. Steve Walters is certain that his grandson, Gauge Metz, will overcome the bull and gain a lot more.
“Showing animals teaches kids responsibility because they have to take care of them at home — make sure they are fed, watered and walked. Plus, they have to practice setting the animals up and getting them to where they will stand for them,” Walters said. “The more time you put in at home, the better they will do in the arena.”
Gauge has a team of coaches and supporters. It includes his grandparents and parents, as well as an aunt who shouts the next move or counter move to keep the animal in the best possible position.
Gauge’s family owns J Metz Farms. His mom, Jessica Metz, and her sister, Chelsea Bennett, showed livestock growing up and also worked as vet techs.
“We work a lot at home,” Bennett said. “I showed growing up, and I can look out and see how the cow is placed, and it gives him encouragement and builds his self-esteem.”
Melanie Walters, Gauge’s grandmother, said this is definitely a family affair. “Don’t let anybody tell you this is just the kids — everyone has to be involved,” she said.
As soon as kids can walk and hold a lead, they start prepping for the ring. Gauge’s little sister, Georgia, won the showmanship award at the Peewee Showmanship event the night before. The Peewee show gives younger children a chance to test the waters with the older kids’ animals.
Bennett's son Russell, 3, with his mama’s help, grabbed the lead of a huge but laid back Brahman heifer and made his ring debut Friday.
Steve Walters doesn’t even try to contain his granddaddy excitement as he sighs, “If I would have known it was this much fun having grandkids, I would have had them first.”