2015 was a great year for Missouri’s Riley Tade. The now 18-year-old had great showring success with his goats at the local, state, and national levels, including the American Royal in Kansas City. Then in early 2016, one of Riley’s migraines, often par for the course for the young man who lives with a rare form of cerebral palsy, turned into a week-long hospital stay.
“We got home, and we could just tell something was just not right,” said Jennifer Tade, Riley’s mother. The family returned to Children’s Hospital in St. Louis where doctors realized Riley was suffering from seizures. Once under control, the seizures still resulted in swelling in the front lobe of the teenager’s brain. Even as he entered rehabilitation and began to improve, Riley was left unable to speak as a result of the swelling.
“They told us within three to six months he would get back what he was going to get back,” she said. “As the clock ticked, he still had very few words and very little verbal communication. It was tough.”
The Tades continued to support Riley as he healed and continued to regain speech, and in February 2016, it was like a light was switched on, his mother explained.
“He is so close to being right back where he was a year ago,” she said. Most of the summer was marked with heavy doses of seizure medication, leaving Riley in a fog and unable to enjoy summer the way livestock loving teenagers tend to.
“Time, reducing the medication, and perseverance got us to where we are now,” she said.
In 2016, Riley missed the champion drive at the Missouri State Fair by a hole, but, his mother said, they were truly happy to be there, especially after health problems left them unsure if he would be able to show at all, much less be competitive at the state level.
“Through the whole summer, the only time we really saw his true personality and they kid we truly knew, was when we were at the fairs,” she said.
The goal was to take a goat Riley had raised to Denver to show at the National Western Stock Show in January, one of the most competitive national shows in the country. Rather than heading west to show in Denver, the Tades took the time to regroup after a summer filled with challenges.
This is the point at which Riley’s story shouldn’t be confused with a sad story.
Riley has about 15 does he raises and cares for to produce show wether prospects. Much of his stock goes back to the Hummel family in Illinois, well known for their success with show goats on the national stage.
“They’ve been incredible as we were trying to find livestock for Riley,” Jennifer Tade said. At heart, Riley is a cattleman, but his health challenges make goats a better choice. Riley’s string was originally meant to be a few commercial goats to raise and sell on a small scale, but seven years into building his operation, Riley has produced respectable show prospects that he has shown and for other youth exhibitors. This year, Riley will sell to local exhibitors as well as other young people who will exhibit his goats in Arkansas and Ohio.
Last year marked the third year Riley garnered overall grand champion goat honors at his county fair and while he will continue to show, his focus is shifting to the herd and producing show wether prospects for others.
Riley has an appreciation for the industry, and there’s little doubt that he understands dedication on a personal level. He begins preparing wethers for show before they are weaned, an advantage to raising his own prospects.
“Once the goat is pretty good on a lead, he will sit on a rolling stool and hold the lead with tension on it,” she said. “He’ll scoot back, creating tension, and the goat will take two steps.”
The process to teach goats to lead is time consuming but vital as he ultimately shows them while he uses a walker. From that point, Riley works with the goats, grooming and leading them three to five days per week. Jennifer or husband Steve will then teach the goat to lead on Riley’s walker before Riley is ready to be turned loose. April and May mean jackpot shows for the Tades and then county fair in July.
Riley’s dad does much of the clipping and fitting for Riley, and this was another aspect of showing that the Tades received support from a well-known expert. Through a friend, the Tades met Kirk Stierwalt, the foremost expert on fitting show cattle. Stierwalt had seen an article about Riley on social media and introduced himself to the Tades and then spent a day with Steve teaching him tips and tricks to fit goats for show.
“It’s an opportunity most people don’t have but it’s one that presented itself to Riley because of his story and the challenges he has overcome,” she said.
With a growing list of supportive people flanking him, Riley continues to grow his herd and produce quality prospects. This year, several of his prospects were the result of artificial insemination, giving him access to outstanding sires without maintaining multiple, high dollar bucks. Always striving to produce winners, Riley and his dad are also positioning themselves to have recipient does to use in embryo transfer attempts in coming years.
Despite his success and goals, Riley continues to prioritize producing prospects for the local exhibitors who first purchased goats from him and established what is becoming a successful prospect operation.
“We try really hard to take care of those kids,” she said. His original customers include a young exhibitor from Sarcoxie, Missouri, who shows at the Missouri State Fair, the American Royal, and AkSarBen in Nebraska, among other shows with great success showing Riley’s goats.
While traveling the country to shows may not be in the cards for Riley, the success he is currently enjoying is as a result of building an operation from the ground up and having a hand in other’s success. Surrounded by some of the best in the business, he has trusted advisors and his parents, who are tireless supporters of his success and well-being.
“Some people don’t want to share all of their secrets,” she said. “Steve has been adamant that if you buy a goat from us, we will help you even if it means that you might beat us.” After all, Jennifer Tate explained, raising a goat that beats us is not the worst thing, it’s still a win.