As a Brahman breeder, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of personally attending and/or judging Brahman shows a lot in Central America and South America.
Recently I posted a picture from judging the 2023 National Brahman Show in Mexico and a friend suggested I write about what it’s like to show there. I thought it was a great idea so here it is!
- The show crews sleep at the barn.
Just like the old days where the stock shows had “dorms” for the crew to sleep in, Some crews will tie a hammack in the feed alleys and stay with the cattle 24/7.
- Crossing country borders requires lots of health documentation’s.
We take for granted driving through 5 states to get to a major show here. There, if you cross country lines it’s like having to get an import / export paper for each country. For example, I recently attended a show in Panama that had exhibitors from Costa Rica and Guatemala. Those exhibitors had to plan 3 days for travel / health checks. One exhibitor said his cattle spent 1 day at one of the country borders just sitting on the trailer before they could enter. Plus, selling cattle is more difficult too because of the country borders. If you sell an animal at the show, to a breeder from a country other than yours, you have to quarantine the animal for 14 days at the show, and get all the import papers before the new buyer can take the animal home.
- The showman are off the charts. But they show much differently.
Here in the USA we stand still and poised. Stone faced. Stiff armed. In central or South American countries the showman are all over the place. The cattle are so gentle the showman usually drops the halter and literally walks all around the animal. The showman steps far back away from the animal when the judge is near by so the calf is like, just standing there out on its own. They also take a really “low” position, like scrunching down really low to the ground.
I also see a lot of faith displayed by the showman. Some will quickly kneel on the ground at the let in gate and do the sign of the cross every time they come in the ring. I see a lot look up to the sky and make a symbol of something before going in the ring. You can tell God is a big part of many of their lives.
- They take backdrop pictures after every division.
Here in the USA we all wait til after the champion drive to take pictures usually. There, they stop the show after every single division and take pictures. Some shows stop the show entirely, so the judge can get in the pics. Others keep the show running so that means the judge doesn’t get in any pics, except the champions.
- They show cattle much older.
At the show in Mexico, you could show cattle up to 40 months of age. So, In the last division of females, these cows had their 2nd calf at side.
- Start time means nothing.
The schedule may say the show starts at 10 am. But it might be noon. Or whenever people feel like letting it start. If people had a late night before they’ll just bump the show til noon. Or 2 pm. Or 4 pm. It’s very laid back from a scheduling perspective.
- The breeders all support each other.
Everyone gets in each others winner pictures. It’s like a thing. No matter who wins. The breeders all genuinely seem to like each other and be happy for each other. There’s very little cut throat competitive behavior. I personally think it’s because most of the breeders also have businesses. So, showing is a fun activity but it’s not their sole source of income. So they don’t seem as “desperate” to win as some USA folks do.
- They don’t use leather show halters.
They mostly use cloth halters with a chain, and a long cloth lead strap.
- Nose leads aren’t permitted in some countries.
Due to animal welfare. Which makes it a bit interesting trying to control the 40 month old bulls.
- All the showman dress the same.
This varies from country to country, but in Mexico they all wear a navy blue t shirt with the associations logo. Makes it very uniform, and takes away any of the ranch advertising that influences halter judging.
- Differences in brands.
These countries brand their cattle differently than the USA but there are some things I like. In Mexico for example, there are no brands on the show side. It’s super nice when judging, because as the judge you don’t know who’s cattle it is. There are no brands to distract you, and the showman all look the same. I mean, yes there are ways you could really try to figure out who’s who, like say you knew who certain showman were, but you’d have to work pretty hard to do it. Some ranches did have their name on the band of the show halter but that’s so small again you’d really have to look for it.
They also shave out the hair around their brands and some put a black paint on the brands to really make them stand out. It looks really cool.
- It’s really hot. And really humid.
You can’t explain the heat. And the amount of sweat you will sweat. Long sleeves are not really an option.
- Restrooms are sometimes pretty bad.
In Mexico you had to pay a nickel for every square of toilet paper you wanted in the inside restrooms that were available on the second show day. On the first show day, there was a port a potty for women, and that was it. Men were on their own. Pretty scarce.
- Breeders have their own “sky boxes” to watch the shows.
Since it’s so hot, some breeders have built permanent structures in the stands like a little skybox. It’ll be air conditioned. They’ll serve food and have their own private restrooms. This is where you want to be if you’re spectating lol. It’s amazing.
- The bedding is all sand.
- The wash racks suck.
If there even is a wash rack. It’s a lot of just tying to a tree, with really low water pressure.
- The hospitality is off the charts.
Talk about friendliness and hospitality! It’s amazing. Lots of food, drinks, music, parties. The association usually provides a free lunch for everyone. Super nice. Anything you need, someone will help you. The hospitality is great.
- Show banquets.
Some of the countries have a banquet after the show, like the day after, to present all the awards. So you stay 1 day longer, sleep in, get dressed up in a tux and ball gown, and the night after the show have a big banquet and party and get all your trophies.
- The passion when they win!
It’s hard to describe this with words, but I’ve never seen so much passion when people win. The showman will throw his fist up in the air. He may drop the halter and leave the animal just standing there and run go high five the ranch owners in the stands. Might jump in the air. Might do the splits. (No just kidding I’ve never seen anyone do the splits). But it’s electrifying. Makes you so happy for all the winners. They let their joy shine!
- There’s a champion showman for the open show.
Right after the show all the showman come into the ring (no cattle just the people) and the judge picks a champion showman. For each day of showing. They’ll get prize money. This for me is the hardest part, because all of the showman are so good. They truly are. How can you pick just three.
If you ever have an opportunity to travel abroad and attend a show, I highly encourage it. Traveling to shows in central and South America has helped me so much as a breeder to learn about different environments, breeding programs, and needs of the ranchers. If possible, travel with a group to help with your safety. Contact the breed associations of that country and ask to see if they can help your group with an airport shuttle and hotel shuttle, things like that.
For me, I’ve been to Mexico (3 times), Panama (4 times), Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil. Brandon’s been to all those as well as Paraguay and Colombia. These are trips of a lifetime. Going there will change your outlook in ranching and life. I definitely encourage you to travel to an international show if you have the chance.
Or, heck, come with me the next time I go somewhere! I always love company.