In the fourth installment of our “On the Road to the Majors: Preparing for a Major Stock Show,” Shelly McQuaig and her husband Paul discuss the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE).

General Information

SBC: What’s your favorite major show to attend?

Shelly: Probably our favorite major is the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE).


SBC: When and where is the show?

Shelly: The NAILE is held annually from October through November in Louisville, Kentucky. The cattle portion of the show typically falls in November, starting with the junior show and wraps up right before Thanksgiving.


SBC: When are the deadlines?

Shelly: The beef cattle deadline is October 1.


SBC: Do participants need anything specific for the show?

Shelly: You definitely need health papers, but I think that goes for most shows. Personally, we hate tying in the barns and prefer to set up and tie to the trailers at this show, so we make sure to take the generator and all the things we need to set up: panels, straw, tents, etc. They assign stalls in the barns by breeds. Since we show such a wide variety of breeds, we found that this was a nice way to tie together with all of our friends and really have a good time and build our show family. Also, the barns are really nice at Louisville. But, because the cattle are there so long and the barns are closed in, we just feel stifled. You can smell the ammonia in the air of the barns by about day three. The junior barn is smaller and a lot more open. The juniors only show over the first weekend, so if you go for just that show, you would be fine to tie in the barn. We did that a lot when we were young showman, showing in just the junior show.


SBC: How is the show split up?

Shelly: The NAILE is split up by breed, then age. Except steers for the junior show–those are by weight. There’s also a prospect steer and heifer show and sale that everything all shows by weight also.


SBC: What surprised you the most when you got there?

Shelly: The hugeness of it all. I went for the first time as a ninth grader. Pulling in and seeing the tie outs full and the number of trailers–I was in shock. Then once we got settled in the barn and I started walking through it all…my dad and I were just in awe the whole time. To this day, I have yet to make it to the other barns to see the sheep, goats, pigs, etc.

Paul: The distance that people traveled to come compete at the show. Louisville is only 8 hours away for us, but there are always people from 20+ hours away.


SBC: What did you forget and wish you had brought with you?

Shelly: Appropriate clothes. Louisville is so weird about weather. We’ve shown there for the NAILE and for Junior Nationals in the summer–we NEVER have the right clothes! For the NAILE, we have been there freezing our behinds off, and the next day needed shorts. For Junior Nationals, we always forget to pack a coat for being in the barns. (They are air-conditioned and it works very well.)


SBC: What is your favorite thing about this show?

Shelly: We have always just enjoyed getting to visit with friends, meet new people, talk to breeders, and see the direction our breeds are going.


SBC: How experienced do you have to be to exhibit at this show?

Shelly: I don’t think you have to be super experienced to go. I think it is a huge eye opener for showmen. I know I went my first time thinking I was pretty experienced, but then felt WAY out of my league. I’d say maybe third-year showmen would be the best time to take a chance at it, unless you are under the wing of a pretty big breeder. Maybe even just go and watch the first year.


SBC: What ages can show?

Shelly: There is a junior show on the first weekend of the beef, followed by the open show.


SBC: What breeds can show?

Shelly: This is the world’s largest purebred show, so crossbreds can’t really show here except in the steer show. Chianinas have a minimum requirement on their percentage to show here, but other than that, all breeds are recognized. They even have a Lowline show.


SBC: Can you do both the open and junior shows?

Shelly: Yes! As long as you are 21 or under, you can show in the junior show, then stay the week for the open show.


SBC: How is the cattle weigh-in/check-in handled?

Shelly: For the junior show there is a specific time and place between the junior barn and the big barn that they’ll weigh and check registration papers. For the open show the breed officials will come around and check your animals. If you’re not in the barn they still come to find you. With Herefords, the region representatives try to come see the cattle and check the tattoos at the farm or at a smaller show prior to Louisville and will stamp registration papers. Then they just need to see the papers at the NAILE.


SBC: What is the atmosphere of the show?

Shelly: It’s fairly laid back until show day. Then show day is pretty hype.


SBC: Do I have to pay for admissions each day?

Shelly: If you exhibit, they give you a little pin that goes on your shirt or jacket. You have to buy extras if you need more than they give you. I think if you are going just to go, you would have to pay daily admission or buy one of those pins.


SBC: Are fitting supplies available on site? If so, what brand?

Shelly: Yes. Both Weaver’s and Sullivan’s have huge displays set up in the store. But they aren’t in the barns so be prepared to walk to get supplies.

Tie Outs and Parking Information

SBC: How do they handle the tie-out situation for cattle? Do you need your own bedding?

Shelly: You will have to purchase shavings for the barn when you get there. They frown on outside bedding in the barns. If you tie outside, they don’t really have a way to monitor where your shavings come from. You can tie in the barns and then have access to the tie outs, or you can set up around the grounds and tie to the trailers or make pens.


SBC: How is parking?

Shelly: You kind of just find a place to park and don’t forget where you parked. There’s parking for trucks close to the barn, and it’s tight, but not terrible if you get there early each day.


SBC: Is there easy trailer parking? Is it handy to access your trailer for feed and supplies?

Shelly: If you tie in the barns, we recommend taking your feed off there and leave it in the barn. Regular trailer parking is a hike to get to and you can’t always get your truck close to the barn to get stuff out of it. But if you set up a place to tie to the trailers or make pens by it outside, you’re good on accessing feed and supplies off the trailer.


SBC: What is the best way in and out of the grounds?

Shelly: Depending on where your hotel is will determine what way you come in to the grounds. There’s the big main gate that we come through the most when we are coming from the south. But if we stay on the north side of Louisville, we come through a different gate. Once through the gate, the road around the fairgrounds is one way all the way around.

Barn Information

SBC: How warm is it in the barn?

Shelly: They definitely keep it warm for the NAILE and cold for the Junior Nationals. Pack clothes for all weather, no matter what time of year you go.


SBC: What is the barn setup?

Shelly: The two main barns are for the open cattle show and the junior barn is off to the side. If you aren’t in the original barn that’s closest to Freedom Hall, you will have panels for tie walls. Make sure you pack plywood or boards that will fit between the lowest bar and the floor to keep your shavings in the beds.


SBC: Are the wash racks indoors or outdoors?

Shelly: Both. They have a loading dock set up as a wash rack outside between the junior barn and the new barn. There is also a wash rack that is heated with warm water in the barn. If you’re tying to your trailers, you can wash at the trailer, too.


SBC: How is stalling?

Shelly: They assign stalls by breeds, but it is tight. One plus is that they have tack space between the noses of cattle that face each other.


SBC: What should I expect for moving in and out of the barn?

Shelly: There’s not a lot of access to the doors and you might be in an interior location that is even tougher to get to with your tack. Bring dollies or be ready to tote things long distances. Many times when breaking down, we will load it on the truck bed then load the trailer in the trailer lot because it is easier to get the truck to the barn.


SBC: Can exhibitors bring their own bedding and hay?

Shelly: Technically, you are supposed to buy everything (even feed) from the NAILE. They have relaxed this rule a little in recent years. I mean who is really going to change their calf’s feed at a show of that caliber? You are supposed to purchase bedding from them if you tie in the barn, but they do have bulk options and will haul in big loads for you if you have a lot of animals.


SBC: What type of bedding does an exhibitor need?

Shelly: In the barn we like their shavings and wood chips. Since we typically tie outside, we use straw.


SBC: Can I bring fans, a fan cage, and side panels for my cattle?

Shelly: You can bring all of these. I definitely recommend at least end panels for your stalls.


SBC: Does the water have an off-taste, such as chlorine?

Shelly: The water is stoutly chlorinated. You’ll see some people bringing in tanks of their own water to make sure their animals drink. Ours have always acclimated to it quickly though. (Check out our post “How to Keep Your Calf Eating and Drinking at the Show” for more helpful tips.)

Food and Hotel Information

SBC: Can outside food, drinks, and coolers be brought in?

Shelly: Yep! Their venders are pricey, so I encourage you to have your own snacks and drinks.


SBC: Are there places to purchase food and drinks? If so, what are the prices?

Shelly: Yes. They usually have the Kentucky Cattlemen’s with beef and Kentucky Pork Producers with pork. There are several other vendors, but it’s expensive. The food is good, though.


SBC: How is the traffic to and from the show?

Shelly: This is a hard one for me to answer. We are always in the barn by 6:00 A.M. and don’t leave until around 7:00 or 8:00 P.M., so traffic is pretty easy to manage. I hear that if you hit rush hour traffic it can be pretty stop and go.


SBC: What are the best restaurants to eat at around the show?

Shelly: There are so many! There’s really good Mexican joint a couple exits south from the fairgrounds. We also always hit up the Old Spaghetti Factory downtown. The Hall of Fame burger joint adjacent to the fairgrounds is good, too, if you want to stay close to the fairgrounds.

Before the Show Information

SBC: What are the best tips/tricks for preparing for the show?

Shelly: Do your homework! Work your hair. Practice showmanship. Even though there’s not a showmanship contest in the open show, you need to be prepared for the show ring.


SBC: What is the most important thing to remember before heading to the show?

Shelly: Double check your suitcase for hot and cold weather clothes. Make sure you have your feed supplies, show stick, and all the things on your checklist. That way you don’t have to buy new items when you get there. (Follow this link to get a checklist of items from the Silver Barn.)

Show Day Information

SBC: What should I expect for show day?

Shelly: It gets pretty hectic on show day. Know what class you’re in and make sure you get there. It can be a long walk, so give yourself time to get there.


SBC: Where and when is the show order posted?

Shelly: It’s posted outside the show office near the sale ring. If you are in the open show, your breed representatives typically will bring copies around and give them to you.


SBC: What is the most important thing to do at the show?

Shelly: Have fun! Take care of your animals, explore the barns, go shopping in the mart, watch the show, and enjoy your time at a major show while showcasing your hard work.


SBC: Who would be the best go-to contact person if exhibitors have questions while at the show?

Shelly: Find someone in your breed who has been there a bunch if you are doing the open show, or even in the junior show. Take them as a mentor. My first year we tied in the junior barn, and the girl next to us became fast friends with us. She and her mom became good mentors for us.


SBC: Who is allowed to help fit at the show?

Shelly: There isn’t any restrictions on fitting at this show. Anyone can help fit and clip your animals here.


SBC: What would be your best piece of advice for exhibitors interested in attending the event?

Shelly: If you are interested in going to this show, definitely look into going. We recommend going as a spectator to the NAILE first before you go as an exhibitor. It’s a lot to take in. This will give you the opportunity to find a mentor to help you get established.

Want to read about other major shows? Check out our articles on the AMAA Junior National and the National Western Stock Show.

Have you competed at the NAILE before? We would love to hear about your experience! Please write in the comments below.


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