Samantha Bunting, visually impaired, shows cattle

By Brandon LaChance

If there is a fair in Illinois or close enough to make the trip worth it, the odds of the Bunting family attending and showing cattle are extremely high. Jason and Tasha Bunting, as well as their three children Isabella (14), Samantha (11) and Jackson (8) have made a living, a responsibility, a passion for stepping into the show ring. “Jason and I were both raised on farms and raised livestock from the time we were born,” Tasha Bunting said. “He grew up on a grain and livestock farm outside of Dwight. They raised sheep and he was in 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) doing different projects like showing sheep, pigs and cattle at fairs. “I grew up in Ford County, just outside of Gibson City, also on a grain and livestock farm. My family had registered short-horn cattle. I guess, it’s in our blood. We’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s not just a lifestyle, it’s more of who we are. Being able to have a farm and raise our children on it, is the life we wanted to continue and provide for them.” The Bunting calendar reads: the Livingston County Fair, the State Fair, the National Junior Short-Horn Show (this year in Louisville, Ky., last year in Texas) and the North American Livestock Expo (Louisville) every November. Additional events are added if schedules permit. The shows highlight what the children have learned and put a spotlight on their love for showing cattle. But the real work – lessons such as work ethic, taking care of responsibilities, chores, providing for animals so when ready they can feed the family and consumers – begins at the Bunting Farm outside of Emington. “They start learning a little about what it takes to provide for their animals right from the beginning,” Tasha Bunting said. “They’re not involved in all of the details and the minute decisions, but they know generally that things cost money and we have to make money to be able to provide and purchase the items we need. “Isabella and Samantha are old enough to show. Jackson isn’t quite old enough yet and he’s very anxious. The 4-H age requirement is 8-years old by Sept. 1 and he has a late September birthday. The girls started when they were both 8. They show heifers and they raise the calves that come from the heifers. They continue to build their herd. If they have a steer or a bull calf that we feed out, they know it’s to provide for our family or another family. “They feed their own show animals. They wash them and get them ready for the fair. They bale hay and help move equipment around. Isabella is getting to drive more and more equipment, so she’s pretty pumped about that. They all have things they have to help out on whether it’s making sure water tanks are full, filling feed buckets or checking cows to make sure they’re healthy and paired up with their mammas.” For Samantha, the process of showing cattle is a little more difficult. The 11-year old was born with a genetic vision impairment condition called Leber’s Congenital Anaurosis (LCA). The family could tell Samantha’s eyesight was different than Isabella’s sight when the younger sister was 4-months old. After some time and testing, the University of Iowa’s genetic test found Jason and Tasha were both carriers of LCA. “It was a one in a million test and Samantha happened to have the right gene matchup. She’s the lucky recipient of the LCA gene,” said Tasha Bunting. “There are definitely days where it can be a challenge, but she is determined to not let it slow her down and she works through it in multiple ways.” Although it hasn’t been easy, Samantha Bunting didn’t back down from the condition or the challenge. She saw her sister and cousins washing, feeding and showing cattle and wanted to be a part of it whether she had 20/20 vision or not. “I try to not let it get the best of me. I try to put up with it and figure things out. If I want to do something, I’ll try my best to do it. If in the end I can’t, at least I tried,” Samantha Bunting said. “I knew I had difficulty seeing pretty early. Since then, I really haven’t thought much about it. I can see outlines of things. I can’t really see details. If someone walks up to me, I can tell who they are by their voice. If I can’t figure out who it is, I’ll ask. “When we’re washing cows I ask my family, ‘Is this good, do I need to keep working on it?’ If I can’t get something or can’t reach, I ask my sister or whoever is out there to help me get it. Jackson is helpful when he wants to be, but I can always rely on Izzy, mom and dad pretty well.” Not only does she enjoy showing cattle at a young age, but it’s something she wants to do for the rest of her life. Like the rest of her family, she never wants to leave the farm. “I like showing cows because it gives me the experience to learn different things. It gives me a chance to work with a different cow every couple of years,” Samantha Bunting said. “I learn some cows are not going to act the way you want them to. Some cows are going to do what you want them to.” Samantha’s cow is named Gold Cumberland aka Goldie and Isabella’s cow is Xena. Isabella shows Xena and also helps Samantha in the ring. Samantha doesn’t need Isabella’s help because of her vision or the heifer, but because there may be other animals in the ring not behaving and the judges use hand signals to show where exhibitors need to show next. The older sister is the eyes. “There are many times where  I’m going to look back when I was helping her in the ring and smile or giggle to myself because of the things we say,” said Isabella Bunting, who has grown close to Samantha between being her sighting assistant and roommate. “Sometimes I’ll tell her jokes so she can smile because she is so concentrated and doesn’t want to smile. I’ll giggle or tell her a joke to get her to smile or laugh a little bit. “I tap her on the arm and she knows what leg goes forward. It’s kind of like a short hand (messaging) and we’re working on that. When mom told me I was going to help her, I didn’t think I was going to be the right person. I thought me helping her would distract her or distract me. I thought I might tell her the wrong spot or not direct her correctly and it would be difficult. “When I went out there for the first time, I liked it and I wanted to be her right-hand person.”Momma Bunting didn’t want to hold Samantha back because of the eye condition, but was still cautious at the beginning. With Samantha’s passion for showing cattle and Isabella’s older sister love, the angst wore off quickly.“I would say any parent would be nervous and anxious,” said Tasha Bunting. “It’s about giving her the freedom to do the things she wants to do and kind of stepping back and letting her handle it when she’s comfortable and prepared. It can be hard, but ultimately, it’s something she really enjoys and the family enjoys. It’s a family affair where everyone is helping each other. “We knew we would figure out a way to make it work no matter what.” Jackson Bunting is a part of the family affair as well.Although he is jealous of his sisters because they can show cattle and he isn’t quite old enough yet, he helps as much as he can around the farm. “I want to help dad run the farm and do everything he needs help with,” Jackson Bunting said. “My favorite part of helping him is I get to drive the truck and skid-steer loader.” At fairs, the jealousy wares off a bit because he gets to eat all the snacks while his sisters are in the show ring. Brandon LaChance can be reached at (815) 876-7941, or on Twitter @LaChanceWriter.