Mike Amoss has spent more than half his 19 years in 4-H. According to the 4-H charter, he will be too old for the club after this year. But he won't leave without showing one more pair of steers at the 21st annual Harford County Farm Fair, which opens Thursday at the Equestrian Center in Bel Air.
"I grew into 4-H, and I grew up in it," he said. "It taught me responsibility and giving back."
At a young age, he began showing what he had harvested from the family's Fallston farm. First there were home-grown vegetables, then the pigs he raised.
"I sold my first pig and decided I really liked raising animals to show," Amoss said. "I liked working to get an animal ready for the auction."
He knew full well the implications of the sale - the animal would be going to the butcher after it was sold.
"You get used to it," he said. "This teaches you how food gets to the table."
By 11, he was raising hefty steers and taking them to the fair. The sale usually paid for the feed and care of the next year's show animals, he said.
It helped that he had two older brothers and a sister who also were involved in 4-H and willing to help him.
"The animals I am showing this year came from a heifer my sister once showed," Amoss said. "She helped me choose them."
His parents, Mary and William D. Amoss, also grew up in 4-H and met when they were both 4-H All-Stars - a group of adult volunteers who help club members. They encouraged their four children to be involved in the group's activities.
"We are never getting out," said Mary Amoss. "4-H develops leadership and character and helps children build a solid foundation for their futures."
Mike Amoss is studying agri-business at Harford Community College and is a veteran of the show ring. Gently, with a show stick, he can deftly maneuver a nearly 1,200-pound steer into what's called a box stance, which shows its best features.
"You want them to look as wide as possible," said Amoss, who, at 6 foot 3, might stoop a little behind the animal so as not to distract the judges.
"You want to present the animal, not yourself," he said.
With that same stick, he can just as easily give a bovine a belly scratch, an exercise cows favor.
Amoss selected his last show animals more than a year ago. As he usually does, he named the calves. They are Tom and Jerry, after favorite cartoon characters of his boyhood. In November, he brought them in from the field and began "bulking them up" on a diet of cracked corn, soybean meal, oats and minerals.
"They see me walking through the field and start bellowing," he said. "They know I am coming to feed them."
Today, Tom and Jerry together weigh more than a ton.
"They spend their days mostly eating," Amoss said.
The steers are Simmental-Angus crossbreeds, with the best traits of both types. Jerry, with a lustrous brown hide, weighs 1,130 pounds, up nearly 400 pounds from his January weight. Tom, the typical Angus jet black, but with a white face, tops Jerry's weight by 45 pounds. They fit well within the livestock auction's weight parameters of 950 to 1,350 pounds, Amoss said.
The animals are attuned to Amoss, who works with them daily. He can hear if they are grinding their teeth, a sure sign of nervousness.
"The more you work with them, the better they will be at the fair," he said. "If you are hands on, they won't be jumpy when you are walking them around the ring. If you haven't worked with them, it will show in the ring."
In addition to size and stance, judges look at how free-moving the steer is and how evenly it strides, he said.
When walking one or the other around the barnyard, he controls the animal with the halter around its head. But he remains constantly aware that the steer has the weight advantage.
"You have to show him who is boss," he said. "You can't be timid when you are holding 1,175 pounds in your hand, and you sure don't want him to know you are 190."
Amoss is certain Tom will do well at the auction Saturday night because "he is fitted out better." But Jerry, even though slightly smaller, should also command a good price, he said.
A steer can bring as much as $2.50 a pound at the fair auction. But even half of that will give Amoss a modest profit on his time and investment.
"These guys are ready to go and should taste great," he said. "Beef and some kind of potatoes, that's my favorite dinner."
Amoss may be his family's next All-Star.
"I will stay involved, just like my parents, and do what I have always done," he said. "I have already started helping out with the younger kids, and I know that I will go back to the fair every year."