Every day, 11-year-old Chance Austin handled an animal that outweighed him by 1,200 pounds.
Since September, Chance, a member of Milton 4-H, rose before the sun to care for and train Shaq, a meticulously groomed black steer.
On show day, it was no different. Before most Rock County 4-H Fair attendees were awake, Chance and his older brother Cade were giving Shaq a bath in the wash rack followed by a thorough blow drying.
Then it was time for the ultimate breakfast. Shaq was slightly smaller in some areas than ideal, so extra feed was designed to beef him up. Chance and his family presented him with a variety of foods for an hour as they gently encouraged him to eat and rest.
As show time approached, the intensity rose. The steer was moved into a narrow fitting chute where every member of the Austin family took on a task.
Using trimmers and combs, Chance and Cade worked on sculpting Shaq’s leg hair. The idea was to create the illusion of a perfect steer, leaving the hair longer in places where he should be larger. They locked hair into shape with spray adhesive.
As the boys and their father, Ron, hurried to perfect Shaq’s hair, Michelle, the boys’ mother, kept the animal calm by rubbing his underside with a show stick and making soothing sounds. If she stopped, the shaving could have gone awry.
When it was time for the show, Shaq was moved to the stock pavilion where other steers and handlers lined up. Shaq was in the “all other breeds” category, and the lineup was diverse.
Though the judge, Zac Hall, was complimentary of his presentation, Shaq and Chance came in second behind Austin Lynd and his steer, Peaches, who went on to win the grand champion trophy.
Chance said most of his friends are not in 4-H and don’t understand the world of showing animals.
Chance said his friends go to the fair to have fun, ride rides and eat food they can’t get at home.
He goes to show cattle.