by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

SENECA FALLS, NY — Virginia Gardner grew up showing animals at the Steuben County Fair in Bath, NY. Helping her daughter Natalie Capluzzi, 12, show at the Seneca County Fair in Seneca Falls picks up right where she left off. Virginia and her husband, Zachary Gardner, moved their family to Interlaken in Seneca County a year ago. Natalie did particularly well showing her animals considering it was her first time exhibiting at a different county’s fair. Between the Open Show and 4-H Show, Natalie won Showmanship for her rabbit and for her dairy heifer; and Junior Champion, Reserve Junior Champion and Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion with her two Holsteins.

Still in transition from their home in Steuben County, the family keeps livestock there at Virginia’s parents’ farm. Natalie owns 10 beef cattle and a pig, but keeps her rabbits at their new home of 130 acres and a few heifers at a barn at Austic Farms, the crop operation where Zachary works. As soon as they complete the purchase of the property they rent, they anticipate moving the rest of their animals to Seneca County. In the meantime, they visit on weekends and help with chores. The Gardners decided to move to live closer to their respective workplaces. Virginia works at Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus, NY.

Despite all the changes going on, showing is still important to the family.

“My sister and I showed cattle 25 years,” Virginia Gardner said.

Her originating family bred and showed registered Holsteins. Eventually, Virginia changed to showing beef cattle but her sister, Jesse, stuck with dairy. Natalie followed in her aunt’s footsteps and is working on improving the family’s dairy cattle’s genetics.

Virginia said buying expensive cattle isn’t necessary for winning at cow shows. As she was growing up, she and her family worked on breeding cattle to boost genetics.

“It doesn’t matter the price tag, but the pride that you bred and owned it,” Virginia said.

She takes special pleasure in knowing that Natalie’s winning cow is one the teen developed herself “instead of just going out and buying one for silly amounts of money,” Virginia said. “You don’t need to spend a bunch of money to win.”

She also likes that Showmanship depends upon animal care and handling, not simply who can buy the most expensive animal. Hard working show participants can still win, even if their animals are more do-it-yourself in nature.

The family raises calves. Once the heifers have a calf, a dairy farm buys the freshened heifer and Natalie gets the calf back.

“We grew up showing and it’s important,” Natalie said. “It teaches her time management and responsibilities. She’s responsible for chores. If you get kids started with tasks at a very young age, they learn. She was helping as soon as she could walk.”

Her little brother, Joel “helps” in the barn and it won’t be long before Violet, nearly a year old, offers assistance with chores as well.

“We give them small tasks and as they get older they do more and more,” Virginia said.

Their method appears to work.

“This year, she ran the show at the fair,” Virginia said of her older daughter. “She made sure everyone was fed and clean. She clipped them all and got them fit for the show.”

Virginia advises those showing to “ask tons of questions. There’s always someone willing to lend a hand. No question is a dumb question, to be honest. Joining 4-H, like Natalie, is a great way to start. There’s tons of resources.”

Virginia said Natalie is interested in attending Alfred State College to study agriculture business or agriculture and marketing.