Okeechobee Youth Livestock Show gears up for 50th anniversary

On March 9, the Okeechobee Youth Livestock Show (OYLS) will officially kick off at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center starting with the poultry show at 9 a.m. It’ll be the 50th anniversary of the show, which was first held in Okeechobee back in February 1969.

Throughout those 50 years, the livestock show has evolved and grown in size much like the city of Okeechobee has in that time. Currently, the show involves students showing multiple animals, including rabbits, pigs, goats and chickens, but at that very first show the only animals shown were cattle.

The OYLS board in 1969 consisted of Nadine Cherry, Gladys Freeman, Joe Cherry and Nathaniel Hazellief. Of those original four board members only Gladys Freeman, now 94, has lived long enough to see the show enter its 50th year. Mrs. Freeman’s own daughter, Marcia Candler, took part in those first shows and has fond memories of them.

“Seeing that it’s going to be the fiftieth year of the show makes me feel old,” said Mrs. Candler with a laugh. “It’s hard to believe I started showing more than fifty years ago. It doesn’t feel that long ago until you start counting up the years. It’s always been a big event during the year. It was back then and it still is today. It’s just kind of a hometown thing that everybody looked forward to and participated in. About the only thing that has changed is the size of it, everything else is pretty much the same.”

Not only was Mrs. Freeman OYLS’s first secretary and treasurer, she was a founding member of the Okeechobee County Farm Bureau and started the very first 4-H club in Okeechobee.

After the poultry show at 9 a.m. on March 9, the show will pick up again with the rabbit show on March 11 at 2 p.m. and continue throughout the week. Swine showmanship will be at 5 p.m. on March 12 followed by a swine show on March 13 at 5 p.m. On March 14, the lamb show will take place at 1 p.m. with the goat show immediately following that and the steer show closing that day beginning at 5 p.m. Finally, the beef breeding show will take place on March 15 at 11 a.m., followed by the dairy show at 6 p.m.

After the week of students showing their animals, the sale will begin at 2 p.m. on March 16.

Children’s Services Council of Okeechobee County will be the premier sponsor for the entire OYLS. In the past, some of the top buyers at the OYLS have been the Cattleman’s Market of Okeechobee, Okeechobee Livestock Market, Seminole Tribe – Brighton Community and Quail Creek Plantation.

“Kids get pretty good prices for their calves now, but back in those days we’d only get 35 or 40 cents a pound,” said Mrs. Candler of the selling at those early livestock shows. “That isn’t near what it is now days.”

Mrs. Candler says one of the first tests she and her peers would face at the OYLS would be guiding their animal from the ag barn, where the animal was weighed, over to the show barn.

“That was a way to see if you could handle your animal well or if your animal was gentle enough,” explained Mrs. Candler. “Invariably it seemed like somebody’s animal would get loose and start running around the parking lot. Mine never did, but it seemed like we had one every year get loose and take off running. That was always like a big unofficial test.”

The 50th annual OYLS will be taking place from March 9-16 at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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