La PORTE — La Porte's Alaina Jeffers made a giant debut — in more ways than one — into the world of showing steers this week.
The 12-year-old 4-H'er took home the Grand Champion ribbon for her massive dairy steer during the 2019 Beef Show, which took place Tuesday at the La Porte County Fair. Her animal, named Carl, topped the scales among all other dairy steers exhibited Tuesday, weighing in at a whopping 1,739 pounds.
Moments after her victory, while clutching her purple and gold Grand Championship ribbon while surrounded by happy family members, the young girl beamed with excitement.
"When we came in, I wasn't expecting to do that well since he's such a big steer," Jeffers said. "I was so happy and excited when I heard the judge announce my name as grand champion."
Compounding her surprise is the fact that Tuesday was the first time the four-year 4-H member showed cattle at the fair.
Over the past several years, Jeffers — a member of the Scipio Sensations 4-H club — has shown chicken and swine at the county fair. For this year's fair, Jeffers' aunt, Linda, convinced her to add a dairy steer to her list of projects, helping teach the young girl everything that goes into raising the large farm animal alongside a family friend, Larry Yazel.
Jeffers, who always names her animals, dubbed her new companion Carl after she began caring for the cattle in December.
"One of my friends always wanted to name one of her animals Carl," the girl said. "I named him that so it was like her animal, too."
Jeffers, who will enter seventh grade at La Porte Middle School this fall, had a lot of fun discovering how to care for and show dairy steers over the past several months, she said. She learned how to walk the animals properly, how to prepare the animal for the judge's inspection in the show arena and, most importantly, how to feed such a massive creature, Jeffers said.
Her time raising the more than 1,700-pound steer has also taught her patience — a lesson Carl reminded her of on Tuesday, as the animal stepped on Jeffers' foot right before they entered the show arena, causing her to slightly limp during the judge's inspection, she said.
While she has yet to uncover the secret behind her cattle's massive growth these past several months, Jeffers has gotten a pretty good read on the gentle giant's personality.
"He's such a friendly steer," she said. "He tries to lick me sometimes. He's the type who will cuddle up next to you. He's a really good animal."
Given her experience this year — and now, with a title to defend — Jeffers said she is eager to continue showing dairy steers at future fairs, and may even begin entering showmanship contests.
For now, though, she is hoping to continue her success with her chicken and swine projects at this year's fair and is looking forward to cheering on her older sister, Audrey, who is showing horses.
In addition to her Grand Championship, Jeffers was also named Dairy Steer Rate of Gain Champion.
Later in the afternoon, Wanatah's Chase Rosenbaum took home the other Grand Championship of Tuesday's Beef Show for his Beef Steer.
Though it is the 12-year-old's first championship with a beef steer, the Cass Champions 4-H member is no stranger to success at the fair, having won three Supreme Heifer awards, including one at this year's Beef Show earlier in the day, he said.
Even with his experience, the four-year 4-H'er said he didn't expect to win a Grand Championship until at least his seventh year of showing animals at the fair, which added to his excitement that he came out on top of this year's extremely competitive field of beef steers, Rosenbaum said.
"It's pretty cool," he said. "It took a lot of work."
Over the past several months, the boy — who will enter seventh grade at Wanatah Public School this fall — has spent hours every day raising the two steers and two heifers he exhibited in this year's Beef Show.
He is also showing pigs and participating in the showmanship contest during in this year's Swine Show, which took place Wednesday.