State Fair showmanship sheep

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — It takes all-around skills to successfully show a sheep, cow and pig in one event.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Illinois State Fair Showmanship competition. The three-species competition was started by Illinois farm broadcasters in 1999. It was continued by Illinois Farm Bureau starting in 2009 to highlight the talent of 4-Hers ages 14 to 18 who have already won at their county fair.

“It’s unique because the focus is on the exhibitor more than the quality of the animal,” said Corrine Harding, Illinois Farm Bureau’s youth and collegiate intern.

For this competition, 4-Hers will often borrow an animal from a friend or a neighbor to have one of each species to show, she said.

“This is a very prestigious competition — the best of the best,” said Harding, who has some livestock judging experience as a Farmington Central High School student FFA member.

As the event nears, she is busy organizing details and recruiting volunteers.

“We have six rounds of shows, 15 minutes each. There’s something going on all the time. It gets crazy,” said Courtney Vitzthum, Farm Bureau program specialist.

The master showman and first and second runner-up win show boxes, belt buckles and gift cards. Species winners also get belt buckles.

This year, as part of the celebration of the first two decades of the competition, Harding is collecting photos and stories from past champions. She requests any past winners email their photos or stories to

The event starts at the Junior Livestock Barn at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 9, or after the previous show is complete. It usually last about two hours.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.