Mike Nielsen named one of his beef animals after a star in the sky.
That’s because he knew she’d do well in the show ring.
But he gave the name, Jenny, to a bucket calf that was born without eyes.
Inspired by the movie “Forrest Gump,” Nielsen named Jenny after one of the film’s characters, because he was impressed by her persistence.
Jenny would end up being a winner — shining as brightly as any of the other animals he’d shown.
This year, Nielsen was in the show ring on Saturday during the Fremont 4-H Fair. But before he took a 1,300-pound market steer into the ring, the 18-year-old Fremonter looked back on his 4-H career.
Nielsen was 15 when he came to the Masonic-Eastern Star Home for Children in Fremont in 2014. That year, he was put in 4-H.
“I was a little bit scared at first, but also excited,” the amiable young man recalled. “It was a new experience. I had never worked with a farm animal before.”
His first animal was a black angus, bucket calf, which Nielsen named Max. Nielsen brushed and cleaned Max and led the animal around a show ring in a barn on the Masonic Home grounds.
“Over time, I began to bond with him,” Nielsen said. “I started to realize that every animal has its own personality. Max loved to be playful and loved to be lazy.”
Heading into the show ring at a fair would be a little unnerving, but his farm director, Maria Kriete, told him to stay calm.
“Do your best and you’ll be fine,” she said.
He took that advice.
“I ended up doing really well,” he said. “I ended up getting a purple.”
After the Fremont 4-H Fair, he showed Max at the Dodge County Fair. He was very sad when Max went to market, but came to accept the situation.
“We really love these animals, but like everything their time comes,” he said. “I miss Max. He was a good pal.”
The next year, he got a market heifer, which he named Arctura after the star Arcturus.
“I believed she’d incredibly smart and I believed she’d stand out above the rest — and Arcturus is one of the brightest stars in the sky,” he said.
Arctura turned out to be quite intelligent.
Calves aren’t supposed to escape their halters, but this one found a way to do so.
“I think you may have transferred your smarts to her,” the farm director told Nielsen.
After that, they put Arctura in a special halter.
“She was by far the smartest calf I ever had,” he said. “She did exactly what she was supposed to do in the show ring.”
Nielsen also got Jenny that year.
“I liked the name, because as I worked with her more and more, she continuously inspired me,” he said. “One time, when she was out in her pen, she didn’t know where anything was at. She would run into fences.”
She had other obstacles.
“Cattle are herd animals, but the problem was that she didn’t know where the other calves were. So often I’d find her on one side of the pen, but the rest of the calves would be on the other,” he said.
Yet Nielsen would become inspired after discovering that Jenny had started using her sense of hearing and her familiarity with things around her.
When she’d head for a fence, Jenny would realize it was there and turn away as she was nearing it.
So she didn’t run into it.
She began recognizing the sounds that the rest of the calves made, so she’d go with them because she knew where they were.
Nielsen was impressed by her persistence and ability to be a quick learner.
“At one time, it was difficult to lead her,” he said. “She would use every muscle in her body to not walk with me, but as I gained her trust, she became the easiest walker. She learned to trust me.”
Nielsen got a purple ribbon with Jenny at the Fremont 4-H Fair that year.
He earned the reserve champion award with Jenny at the Dodge County Fair in Scribner. With Arctura, he won a purple in Fremont and two purple ribbons at the Dodge County Fair.
Now in 2016, he was preparing to show a steer which he named Sagittarius after a massive black hole in the center of the galaxy.
“I believed he’d be a leader and that black hole keeps all the stars and planets where they should be in our galaxy. It keeps the earth from going too far out of orbit and becoming uninhabitable,” Nielsen said.
He had another reason for naming the steer after a black hole — because the animal is black.
Nielsen anticipated that Sagittarius would do well in the show ring and has enjoyed his time in 4-H.
A 2016 graduate of Fremont High School, Nielsen will go to the University of Nebraska at Omaha for cytotechnology. It’s a job most people have never heard of, he said.
“They’re the lab techs in the hospital,” he said. “They take the tissue and fluid samples and analyze them to determine whether the patient has cancer or bacteria or a virus and then they let the doctor know what the patient has and then the doctor can go about treating the patient.”
Looking back, Nielsen said he didn’t know he’d be doing all of this when he entered the Masonic Home and started participating in 4-H years ago.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “You learn a lot of life skills.”
Now, it looks like Nielsen will shine as brightly — if not brighter — than Jenny or Arctura.