Chatfield youth earns final trip to state fair as 4-H member

Alex Coe shows off his most recent awards from showing goats at the Fillmore County fair. He's rounding off his 4-H career this year and moving on to learn veterinary science as a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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He leans back in the big, black, swivel chair, arms draped over the chair rests and his feet swinging and far from reaching the floor. He’s 10 years old and surrounded by faux marble-mounted plastic scepters of glory earned in the show ring, a king among kidders.

He cocks his eyebrow just slightly, then says bluntly, “I cut their ears off.”

That’s Root River Rabbit 4-H member Alex Coe, just trying to get a stranger’s goat with the tale of how he docked his La Mancha show goats’ ears. He provided an introduction to goat showmanship for the novice who has no clue that La Manchas never have had and never will have external ears. And it’s a story he’s perpetuated ever since he began showing goats for 4-H at the sly age of 8, when he figured out what shock value is.

Today, Coe’s feet reach the floor in the swivel chair, and he’s an upcoming sophomore studying animal science at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in the hopes of returning home, or somewhere close to home, to open his own veterinary practice or work with an existing clinic.

He admitted, “I still get away with the La Mancha goat ear thing with some people. I’m going to the state fair with my goats, and this will be my eighth year — it’s a guaranteed trip to the state fair if you do livestock demonstration, and I did one on artificial insemination of a dairy goat during a competition held at the end of June in Preston.”

Coe explained that after all the demonstrations, the scores were considered and the results were mailed out the next week for livestock and non-livestock entries, and he earned the championship. That means one more ribbon or trophy for his rather…massive collection.

“I have no idea in the slightest how many ribbons and trophies I’ve got, but I’m willing to bet over 100,” Coe said. “But it’s not so much a rush anymore to come home with trophies. I get more out of the individual show and could care less about trophies, something that sits on a shelf or in a box. I’ve come closer to being a goat farmer — I have my own goat herd, just a few to breed and use, and the dream is still there to have my own goats when I grow up. That might be on the back burner with college, but eventually….”

Coe’s goat-showing career began with a good shove from his father, Rodney, who felt his son needed to get outside and see what it’s like to be a kid in charge of a herd of kids. And he’s been there along the way, teaching Alex how to show his goats and sharing his best knowledge of the industry.

“I had a choice, somewhat. I was kind of pushed and almost forced to try it, and I loved it and wanted to stick with it over sports, and it’s the same with FFA, and I don’t regret either,” Coe said. “The first year, I only showed one, but from there, it multiplied year by year to showing 20 goats. I think the most I showed in one year was 26. This year, I had 19 goats total, and I took three dairy market wethers and 16 dairy does, ranging all the way from being kids to 16 years old.”

Coe’s entire herd at home is right around 50 and admits its difficult to narrow it down to 16 to 20 to take within the herd.

“I have the show herd that’s the only options, and then there’s the brood does, and that changes from year to year, but a lot of it’s pretty consistent,” he said. “Depending on how many does are in each class and age class, one year, I can have one in an age class, but another four may have been brought along. It’s the one that looks the best most days compared to the rest…who’s prettiest by definition of what the scorecard lays out.”

Coe said he is pretty good at judging which of his herd will do well against the competition. “I can pick a doe out pretty good with accuracy and ease, but I do favor some does over others, so that clouds my judgment,” he admitted. “I do practice, though, because I want to possibly get an American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) license for judging someday.”

Coe has improved his selection and judging skills, but his showing skills have evolved as well. “I’ve gotten better, and I’ve adapted to how the rules have changed and the styles have changed, going from year to year.”

He said he learns what he does wrong when he’s showing and how to compensate. He’s learned how to make a doe look better and hide her flaws. “And, I’ve made a doe look better than the person holding her did, and she ended up being champion doe,” Coe added.

He shared that he does still get nervous before going into a competition. “I get nervous the night before a show sometimes,” Coe said. “Not always, but I get slightly nervous or unsure of myself, and I get the feeling that I’m not ready even if I am.”

For all his trophies and ribbons, even Coe has had some off years at the county and state fairs.

“I had one year that was just like every other showman has. I didn’t do as well in 2016, and that was the one year I didn’t win showman or champion doe overall, and I took a hard look at my herd and made some changes to my showmanship style,” he said. “It was more of a humbling year at the fair. I came to the state fair and was back in my element, getting champion showmanship and reserve champion Nubian senior doe.”

And being back in his element means he might have to again first face the fact that like all 4-H members showing livestock, he may have to part with his winning state fair animal at the market auction.

“You learn at a young age in 4-H and FFA that you have to let go, and that there’s always the next one next year — that the animal is paying for the next one,” Coe said. “Still, there’s a market wether that I wish I still had because I grew a little more fond of him.”

Coe said he looks forward to the state fair for many reasons, but he especial likes to reconnect with individuals he’s met in the past.

“What I look forward to most is seeing friends I’ve made across the state that I don’t get to catch up with as often, and I know that I’m showing my goats as something that somebody may have never seen and may have only one chance to see. I can teach people about goats…that they’re fun to watch, why some don’t have ears,” he noted.

This year’s state fair will also be his final 4-H venture, and while he’s looking forward to returning to college, he’s not certain that he’s quite ready to be done with 4-H.

“It’s bittersweet to have the feeling of being done with 4-H in Fillmore County because of all of the friends I’ve made and the things I’ve learned that makes me wish I could be in there longer. But all good things have to come to an end and you have to move on to the next thing. I hope that’s just as good, if not better,” he said.

Going back to school comes with the dilemma of not being home to manage or visit his goat herd, and he’s attending a school that’s known for its dairy and horse programs but not so much for its collection of goat enthusiasts. City living isn’t necessarily his bucket of feed, either.

“If I had moved after having grown so fond of my goats, I’d be getting lost because they’re part of my routine,” Coe said. “I struggle being at college and not seeing my goats, getting bellered at, getting bit because I’m not feeding them fast enough. Sometimes I miss the nibbles and the scratches, keeping them out of trouble.”

The coming years might find Coe back in the show ring in open class competition, but he understands that the contests will be greater because the people bringing their goats to open class are even more serious about the cloven-hoofed troublemakers than he is.

“The past couple of years, I’ve only done open class at the county fair and the state fair. I haven’t had time to do it anywhere else, but now that I’m going to be done with 4-H, I’m going to be stepping up and possibly doing more open shows,” Coe said. “It’s harder because these are against breeders who know that they have more genetics and some of the best animals in the country.”

Looking down the road, five years from now, Coe said he hopes to be at the tail end of his education, finishing his degree in veterinary medicine to come back to the southeast Minnesota area. He hopes to have goats of his own, as well as his own place to practice veterinary medicine and have livestock.

“It’s ideal to come back home, but at the same time, it’s ideal to have my own place, and if I need something, I can stop over at my dad’s, or if I need somebody to babysit my goats…because they will get themselves in trouble in some way,” Coe joked.

His own human kids, if ever he has any, will be led to the show ring and given a nudge. “I will strongly encourage them to do 4-H. It will be a choice if they want to keep with it or not, but I hope they would. 4-H is a great organization that teaches a lot of good things…but it’s not for everybody,” he added.

Coe recognizes that his time in 4-H taught him a lot and gave him the opportunity to be open and willing to talk to people. This also led to learning more about his goats and showing the herd as well.

“I’m grateful for all the help I’ve gotten from the people in the goat industry, because without some of their help, I wouldn’t have kept on showing goats. I would’ve given up the first year,” he said.

Most of all, Coe stressed, “I wish I could thank my dad enough for pushing me into this, into showing livestock and letting me to show one species — or two if I wanted — because I’m extremely grateful for that. I just wish I could thank him enough.”