In Shelby Hill’s family, there is a running competition of how many belt buckles each family member can win showing animals at county fair events. At present, Shelby is in the lead with 12, beating out her competitors: mom Charlotte Hill, and Charlotte’s siblings, aunt Belinda Gran and uncle Dwayne McQuillen. “I have more belt buckles than all three of them do (combined),” the blond teen smiled.
The 17-year-old granddaughter of retired Lake Placid High ag teacher, Dale McQuillen, Shelby hasn’t racked up just any collection of buckles, either. In 2011, at the Highlands County State Fair, she won Grand Champion Steer, Overall Steer Exhibitor and Reserve Steer Showman, Grand Champion Heifer, Overall Heifer Exhibitor and Grand Heifer Showman. It’s the first time a competitor has placed in all three categories for both a steer and a heifer - a double jackpot, so to speak.
But there’s no gambling involved. These young competitors have to make decisions about how to choose, feed and raise their animals, plus they have to work with them to make sure the beasts know how to behave in the ring.
Shelby works with her animals two to three hours per day. She explained that the title of Grand Champion is based on the quality of the animal. “How I was able to get a steer weighing 700 pounds in August to 1,260 pounds in February, being able to get him broke where people can come up and touch him,” she added.
Judges look for an animal that will let the owner place him properly so they can critique him and an animal that has the right amount of fat and muscle and is structurally balanced, Shelby went on.
Shelby raises a steer, a heifer and a hog each year. Her strategy for raising a winning animal is to call on all her resources, including her grandfather Dale’s expertise. She loves to pass along her knowledge, too, working as an instructor during showmanship clinics Dale runs throughout the state.
“I like helping at the showmanship clinics, giving back to the community,” said Shelby, who explained that while showing hogs, the competitors need to deftly place a cane or whip in front of the animal’s face to get him to turn the right way, and always need to keep a brush in their back pocket to brush him down after the judges touch him.
“I have had judges come throw dirt on my hog. They are testing you,” she warned.
“Shelby is a true leader,” stated Lake Placid Clovers 4-H leader Paula Sapp in an email. She continued: “she is stellar in her showmanship skills and was always willing to educate and mentor the younger members in our club.”
An 11-year veteran of 4-H, Hill is president of the Lake Placid Clovers, a club that focuses on community service. Each year, she prepares Easter and Thanksgiving meals and visits nursing homes as part of the club’s activities.
“I like visiting the nursing home,” Shelby said, adding that it’s often hard for family members to see their loved ones in assisted living facilities, but for herself and the other kids, it’s fun to play the enrichment games with the residents.
Shelby has been an FFA member since the sixth grade and helped organize the end of the year banquet as well as volunteered with Ag-Venture and co-chaired FFA’s first showmanship clinic earlier this year.
In fact, her resume is already over two pages long, and she hasn’t even started college yet.
The Lake Placid High senior has been accepted to Abraham Baldwin Agricultural college where she’ll earn a pre-vet degree and eventually become a large animal veterinarian. She’s already had some experience doing artificial insemination and helping local vet do a C-section on a cow.
Will she miss 4-H and FFA once she’s started college? “I can actually be in it in college. They have a college chapter,” Shelby remarked.
If she does continue, she said, it’ll be because of her love of showing animals, and not because she might face some friendly family belt buckle competition at the hands of her 7-year-old little brother, Austin.
While Austin loves to tag along after his big sis, Shelby said she’s pretty sure her record is safe. “He likes soccer,” she stated.