You might say the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE) is the mother of all livestock shows. Held annually in November at Louisville’s Kentucky Exposition Center, the NAILE draws more than 200,000 visitors and exhibitors from 49 states.
Founded in 1974, the NAILE is the world’s largest all-breed, purebred livestock exposition, featuring 10 different species of livestock.
“It’s unbelievable how fortunate we are in Kentucky to have this expo held here,” says Brian Forsee, an Owenton farmer who has been exhibiting sheep at the NAILE for more than three decades. “State fairs are very important, but the North American is the main marker for excelling in an individual breed. If you win a class in Louisville, it really sets you apart. It’s the elite show of the year.”
Forsee’s daughter Morgan, 20, and son Preston, 15, have both grown up exhibiting at the NAILE.
“It’s been an awesome family experience,” he says. “In 1996, when Morgan was 3 years old, we had the champion ewe, the reserve champion ram, and the first place flock. I have pictures of Morgan as a little bitty girl standing out in the show ring with our champion ewe. It was one of our most memorable shows.”
Before the NAILE existed, exhibitors would travel to the International Livestock Show in Chicago, which ran from 1900 to 1975.
“The International Livestock Show in Chicago lost its stockyards and meatpacking plants in 1971, and they had been very active in supporting the show,” recalls Jack Ragsdale, executive committee chair of the NAILE. “There was a definite need for a livestock show in this part of the nation, and we have wonderful facilities.”
Ragsdale says that many people thought the NAILE wouldn’t last, but it was highly successful the first year and has been every year since.
“Last year, we had 25,000 entries from almost every state and even cattle exhibitors from Canada,” Ragsdale says. “We’ve also always emphasized the importance of youth shows in all breeds, because young people are future breeders, and they’ve caused it to grow.”
The NAILE has huge economic benefits for Kentucky, pumping more than $14 million into the state’s economy each year. More than $700,000 in premiums and awards go home with exhibitors from across the nation.
Charlie Boyd’s family has been raising cattle for more than a century in Mays Lick, and Boyd recalls showing cattle at the first NAILE with his dad. Today, he continues that tradition with his sons Blake, 20, and Logan, 16.
“The youth shows are one of the biggest assets for young people across the nation, and the North American has one of the best facilities in the country,” Boyd says. “It’s one of my sons’ favorite shows because it’s the highest level of competition you face all year. You’re surrounded by the best in the industry, and it makes you a better person and better at what you do.”
Forsee says one of the greatest benefits of the NAILE is the opportunity to create relationships with others in the agriculture industry.
“Young exhibitors meet people at the North American who will influence their lives dramatically down the road,” Forsee says. “Those relationships are so very important. That’s how this country was built, and it’s still that way today.”
Youth exhibitors show sheep for the honor of Supreme Champion ewe at the North American Livestock Exposition.