By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
In 2000, ten-year-old Ethan Lake and his older brother, Heath, showed a Limousin heifer calf at the local fair. Heath had shown a calf the previous year.
Both boys went on to compete in all the local and state fairs and eventually went to the Alabama State Fair in Montgomery the next March, and then again at the Agriculture Center in Cullman.
All of these shows gained them a lot of experience in the world of showing prize-winning beef.
“The older I got, the more interested I got in the details of showing calves,” said Ethan. He had already come to realize that he loved the environment. In his ninth grade year at West Point, Ethan had the opportunity to attend a Kirk Stierwalt Clinic in Dothan. It was his first really big experience. He figured out there was more to showing calves than what he had seen up to that point.
The next time he showed steers, one he bought in Georgia, and another that he bought from Jeremy Childers, he was ready to seriously compete.
2005 found Ethan, now a junior in high school, showing a pair of steers that he deems ‘pretty good’. In fact, those steers won him his first title at the National Fair in Montgomery. Ethan and his steers took home the Grand Champion award.
The following spring, he went to the Alabama State Fair in Montgomery, for the Southeastern Livestock Exposition. This time he won Reserve Champion Market Steer. And finally, Ethan had a pay day in the form of a cash prize of $4,000, a silver platter and a banner.
He put the money back toward his feed bill and invested in more calves.
“Some people call this an expensive hobby, but showing caves has paid off for me because it paid for my education at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, I had a full ride scholarship because of showing calves,” said Ethan.
Upon attaining his associate’s degree at Hutchinson, Ethan went to Auburn University, where he majored in Agri-Science Education.
He now teaches Agri Science to grades 7-12 at Falkville High School, offering students the benefit of his hands-on experience.
His lifetime of living on a farm, working with his father and grandfather has prepared him well for teaching children about understanding the science of animals, plants and soil. “When they realize that I have personal experience it gives me more credibility with them,” Ethan noted.
He enjoys teaching and says, with a touch of irony, that it’s a lot different being on the other side of the podium.
“I’ve always said that when we do clinics or can give the kids something to care about more than they care about themselves, it keeps them out of trouble, teaches them responsibility and gives them a good work ethic.”
He knows that first-hand. As a kid he learned those same traits from his grandfather, Jerry, and his dad, Steve. He watched them working daily at farm tasks that are not easy, and he admired those characteristics in the men whose tradition he carries on.
Four years ago, when he returned from Auburn, Ethan, Heath and a friend, Brian Crow, started having a few show calf sales.
They have found the best way to have a winning show calf is to travel out West, sometimes as far as Oklahoma or South Dakota, searching for baby calves who show promise of becoming a title holder. They look for sound structure, big ribs, heavy muscles and calves that promise to be stout enough to pass good genetics on to their offspring.
Each February they go back out West to pick up their calves after they have been weaned, then bring them home to break them to a halter.
In March, the calves are ready to sell.
“About three weeks before the sale we start grooming them, clipping their hair, getting them ready to star in a video on the internet so that people can see them,” Ethan explained.
“At that time they weigh approximately 500-600 pounds,” he said. The men have been very successful with this marketing technique. He is proof to the kids in his classes that they can use what they are learning to earn a living and have a lot of fun while doing so.
Because he has been raised on a farm, knows the way of life and can relate this to his students, Ethan Lake can offer them a look at a lifestyle that is much different than sitting behind a desk. He can offer them encouragement from someone they trust, and show them the way to make a living doing what just might come to love.
Yes, it’s a different way of farming – of promoting the beef industry – but as Ethan says, “It’s the road that gets you there that teaches you what you need to know.”