Sibley farm is home to Chianina Heifer of Iowa award winnerSIBLEY, Iowa — When Cassandra Gradert traveled to southern Iowa last fall to choose a heifer calf for her final year of competition in the FFA beef show circuit, she had no idea she would be walking away from the Iowa State Fairgrounds with a grand champion banner, hoards of purple ribbons and the honor of showing the Overall Chianina Heifer of Iowa, an award given only to animals born and raised in the state.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
SIBLEY, Iowa — When Cassandra Gradert traveled to southern Iowa last fall to choose a heifer calf for her final year of competition in the FFA beef show circuit, she had no idea she would be walking away from the Iowa State Fairgrounds with a grand champion banner, hoards of purple ribbons and the honor of showing the Overall Chianina Heifer of Iowa, an award given only to animals born and raised in the state.
Enroute to Grand Champion Female honors, Gradert led her Chianina “Miss Mia” into the arena eight times during the day-long open class beef show Aug. 12, at the state fairgrounds in Des Moines.
She placed first in her class of commercial heifers, and then topped the class in the overall commercial heifer division before moving into the breed-specific classes.
Miss Mia beat out nearly 500 other heifers to earn the Grand Champion Heifer award, and another 500 or so Chianina cattle to take the Overall Chianina Heifer of Iowa banner.
“It was quite an honor — I couldn’t believe it,” said Gradert, of rural Sibley.
The open class show took place on the second day of the Iowa State Fair, and followed the FFA Beef Show on Aug. 11, in which Gradert earned Reserve Supreme Breeding Heifer honors with Miss Mia. Last winter, Gradert exhibited the heifer in shows in Lincoln, Neb., Brookings, S.D., and Des Moines. Two contests still remain for Miss Mia and Gradert, including the FFA Beef Show at the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa, in September, and the American Royal in Kansas City, Mo., in late October.
This was the first year Gradert showed a Chianina breed — and she now considers it among her favorite breeds. The Chianina breed originates from west central Italy, and was first introduced in the United States in 1971.
Miss Mia was named because of her overall size.
“She’s such a big heifer, she reminded me of a big Mama Mia,” said Gradert with a laugh.
Since Gradert attends college — she will start her senior year on Wednesday at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. — her family handles the day-to-day chores. The daughter of Ernest and Angela Gradert, she has two sisters and one brother.
“All together, we work as a family,” she said. That was especially true this summer.
Miss Mia was truly pampered, getting rinsed and washed twice daily, having her hair combed throughout the day and enjoying life in front of heavy duty fans inside the barn. She was allowed outside after 10:30 p.m., and brought back inside before the sun rose above the horizon.
“She never saw the sun,” said Gradert. “It kind of messes with their mind so they think it’s winter. They grow hair then.”
Growing longer hair on show cattle is important because it can be styled for the show arena in a manner that best highlights the heifer’s features.
As for Miss Mia, Gradert said she was singled out as the top heifer in the open show because of her breed characteristics, sound structure and composition.
“(The judge) said when she walked in the ring, he couldn’t take his eyes off of her — she was just beautiful looking,” said Gradert.
The cattle breeder who sold Gradert the heifer said he knew it was a good heifer, but told Gradert the work she had done with the animal “made her a great heifer.”
The hope now is that she will make a great cow — she is due to calve in February, and will add to the Gradert Grain Farms’ growing beef operation.
“We have about 11 cows right now — just from past 4-H heifers,” Gradert said. She began showing cattle in the fourth grade as a 4-H project, and is now 21 years old.
While Gradert is no longer eligible to show cattle in the FFA Beef Show after this season, she plans to continue to work with the animals.
“I love to fit and get the cattle ready for the shows,” she said. “I’ll help my family with that.
Gradert is pursuing a degree in psychology. After graduation next spring, she plans to attend medical school and eventually become a physician’s assistant working with diabetic patients.