Under the bright lights inside the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, Payton Farmer walked her 1,300-pound Hereford, Macey, into the show area.
After capturing junior and intermediate showman titles at the Indiana State Fair in the past, the 16-year-old Brownstown Central High School sophomore was competing in 4-H senior beef showmanship for the first time.
Since buying Macey in October 2015, the two had bonded quite well. Farmer didn’t have to do much for Macey to stay alert and keep her feet straight during shows.
The judge at the Indiana State Fair took note of that and rewarded Farmer with grand champion in 4-H senior beef showmanship.
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That completed the showman trifecta since she won the junior title in 2011 and intermediate in 2015.
At that moment earlier this month, she was in shock, while her mother, Shannon, cried, and her father, Jason, smiled from ear to ear.
“I was so young out there, and there were so many other good showmen that I wasn’t really expecting it to happen. I wanted it, but I just didn’t expect it,” Payton said.
“I think that’s what made it that much better for all of us because we didn’t expect it this year,” Shannon said. “There are times you go into (a show) and you kind of expect it, and when you win, it’s still a win, but it’s not a win like that. It was just an expected win. And to have that many people afterwards tell us what a great job she did, you’re proud.”
Payton was one of 289 participants ages 16 to 18 entered in the senior beef show, and the 15 winners of the breeds vied for the overall title. Two other Brownstown Central students, seniors Cameron Eggersman and Clayton Main, won grand champion of their breeds and made it to the finals to compete, giving Jackson County three finalists.
The judge commended Macey’s easy-going nature, and part of that credit goes to the work Payton put in to make her that way.
“I feel like what sets me apart from the others is I don’t try to show off myself as much,” she said. “Some people are really dramatic with their movements. I’m not as dramatic, I guess you could say.”
Payton said showing off her cow instead of herself always has been her focus.
“I feel like it came almost natural to me,” she said. “I listened to what a bunch of other judges have said, and certain judges have certain things that they are looking for.”
For the win, Payton received a banner to add to her collection at home, a belt buckle, a carrying bag and some cash and gift cards.
“It’s probably the best feeling in the world just to see your hard work pay off in the end, just what you’ve done this whole summer actually pays off,” Payton said.
Winning senior beef showman put her into the supreme showmanship competition a week later. Each of the six participants had to show a cow, a pig and a sheep.
“I’ve done it at the county fair, but that’s nothing compared to the state fair,” she said of competing in the packed Indiana Farmers Coliseum. “It was a lot different.”
Payton spent a week working with each of those animals. But on the day of the competition, the participants showed animals they hadn’t worked with before.
She wound up placing third.
“We started with pigs, and I got two bad pigs,” she said. “I feel like if I would have started with cattle, I would have gotten all of the nerves out then. I was probably most worried for sheep, and I did really good in sheep.”
Payton said she is best around cattle because they always have been a part of her life.
Her parents were involved with cattle shows and sales, and Payton was able to learn a lot about breeding, calving and taking care of cattle.
Early on, someone helped her show cattle. Then by age 4, she competed in a show solo for the first time in Columbus and won.
“The first time I ever won, that was a big deal for me,” Payton said.
Going into that show, she said she didn’t expect to win.
“I probably didn’t really understand it at that time what it really meant,” she said.
Shannon said the size of the cows never bothered Payton.
“They work with them so much, they become such a team that I think they just develop a bond,” Shannon said. “I think certain ones, you develop more of a bond with than others.”
Payton later began competing in 4-H at the Jackson County Fair and Junior Nationals events, claiming numerous awards along the way.
Junior Nationals has taken her to several states over the years, including the most recent competition in July in Wisconsin. In her eight times competing in that event, she always has placed in the top 10, including top three a few times.
In recent years, Junior Nationals has featured more than 1,600 cattle with 900-plus exhibitors. She currently is in the intermediate division (ages 15 to 18), and she can compete until she’s 22.
Payton will show Macey at national shows three more times in the coming months — Kansas City in October, Louisville in November and Denver in January. Macey is pregnant and expects to give birth in February, at which point she could weigh more than 1,600 pounds.
Competing in the large shows has helped increase her knowledge of and experience with cattle.
“I feel like it just builds me up,” Payton said. “It’s something you can’t learn in a classroom, basically.”
It also has helped build her character, Shannon said.
“She works hard at this,” Shannon said. “She washes her calves twice a day on top of having to go to basketball practice. She helps calve the cows, vaccinate them. Then she meets people and learns life-building skills that she won’t learn anywhere else.”
In December 2015, Payton suffered an injury that could have kept her off of the basketball court. She learned of a nerve entrapment that was 5 inches deep and also broke an extra bone on the back of her ankle, which she learned only 10 percent of people have.
Not wanting to lose her starting role on the varsity team as a freshman, Payton played through the injury. She made it through sectional and went back to the doctor, and then later had surgery at the end of May.
“Her orthopedic surgery up in Indy, he said most players wouldn’t have been able to play,” Shannon said. “He does not know how she played in the condition she was in. … He sees a lot of the (Indianapolis) Colts players, and he said most men couldn’t have played one game, let alone played (multiple games).”
The surgery caused Payton to miss all of summer basketball, but she hopes to be ready for the winter season.
“I’m going to start shooting and getting in the gym a lot more in the next few weeks,” she said.
Payton’s dedication to basketball and cattle has impressed her parents.
When she was a sixth-grader, she set a goal of playing varsity basketball as a freshman. She did that this past season.
Once she won the junior and intermediate showman titles at the state fair, Payton set a goal of winning senior showman, too. She did that.
“It makes her dad and I proud just because she does give 100 percent at whatever she does,” Shannon said. “She wholeheartedly tries her best at everything. She’s a tough cookie. She can withstand quite a bit. We’re proud of how hard she works.”
But her goals don’t end there.
She now has her eye on winning supreme showmanship at the state fair.
“I was really nervous for that, and I feel like if I was to participate in it again, then I would probably know how to prepare myself,” she said.
Shannon said since her daughter won senior beef showmanship in her first year competing in that division, others will be wanting to beat her the next couple of years. But Payton said that’s a good thing.
“I feel like that’s what drives me the most,” Payton said. “When people want to beat me, that makes me just work that much harder to try to beat them.”
After high school, Payton said she hopes to play college basketball, and she is considering combining her interest in animals and physical therapy by studying to become an animal chiropractor.
Animals have been a big part of her life for 16 years, and she doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon.
“It’s pretty much like a lifestyle,” she said.