Here for the Herefords

Sophomore Inaya Chishti’s double life on her family farm

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Courtesy of Inaya Chishti

Sophomore Inaya Chishti shows her cow, Rosie, at last year’s Washington Town & Country Fair, where she won first place. After having a great season with Rosie, Chishti has looked forward to showing Rosie and her baby, a cow-calf pair, because she has never shown the same animal twice in a row. “It’s just a lot of work that you pour into this one animal, and then you don’t get to show them again because it’s a lot on the animal. And so we normally just let them go into the field, but Rosie was a really good show animal. She showed herself, [and] I didn’t need to be there. I could let go of the halter and just scratch her, and she would just stand there,” Chishti said. “I’m excited [to show her] because I love her, and she’s actually named after me. My middle name is Rose.”

As the sun blares and the air grows thick and sticky, the attention of the overwhelming crowd focuses on sophomore Inaya Chishti. Despite the sweat running along the side of her face and the oppressive atmosphere, she firmly grasps the cattle halter and leads her steer across the fine mulch into the show ring. After months of training through searing temperatures, Chishti stands proudly beside her steer, waiting to be judged on her showmanship and her steer’s condition at the Washington Town & Country Fair.

Chishti’s grandparents were landowners and the first Hereford breeders in the family. Then, Chishti’s aunt purchased land and started her farm, which houses cattle. Following suit, Chishti’s mom and stepdad founded Biglieni Farms in Sullivan, Mo., where Chishti currently spends much of her time feeding and cleaning cattle and separating the animals into different pastures based on age, gender or breed.

“My stepdad gets mad at me because cross country is very [time-consuming]. I really like running, and I also like [taking care of] the cattle, so [taking care of] the cattle is like my spring and summer sport, while cross country is my fall sport,” Chishti said. “It’s a lot of frustration, [but] I just have to communicate very well with my parents and stepdad so that everybody knows what I’m doing.”

Chishti’s stepdad was the one who taught her how to handle cattle. Starting at age six, day after day, Chishti and her stepdad would practice walking with the cattle until she could handle them confidently. 

“The animal will react to how you’re reacting. If you’re not calm, the animal isn’t going to be calm, and if the animal is scared, you’re going to be scared. So it’s a lot of learning and [being] confident in your ability to do what you need to do, which is what [my stepdad] showed me,” Chishti said. “I used to stare at my feet all the time, which was not good because then I couldn’t see what I was doing, so I was just scared. After a very long time, I learned to keep my head up and keep going.”

Chishti finds her days on the farm therapeutic and similar to living a double life. On their family farm is a total of 45 cows with multiple fenced-off pastures for the different types of animals.

“I like [taking care of cows]. [For example, some people dress as] furries and [or] drag [as a]  form of escapism. You put on all this stuff, and it’s like you’re a different person. I feel like going to the farm is my escapism,” Chishti said. “[I enjoy] the freedom I get the most. Weirdly, it’s self-expressive. I have really bad anxiety, so my cows are very comforting. They’re just like giant stuffed animals.”

Getting involved with 4-H, an extension of the University of Missouri that provides kids with different opportunities for volunteering or competing in various interests such as art or woodworking, allowed Chishti to participate in cattle shows and helped her form strong friendships. Chishti was 5 years old when her mom signed her up for 4-H, and over the past eight years, she has been a part of the many meetings, projects and outings that come with 4-H membership.

“It was good for my mental health when I was bullied at my private school. 4-H was a place where I could hang out. Some of my oldest friends were made through 4-H. [Being in 4-H] allowed me to be myself. I was a pretty strange child, but people embraced my weirdness,” Chishti said.

Sophomore Inaya Chishti stands beside her cow, Rosie, after placing first in her class at a small show in Springfield. (Courtesy of Inaya Chishti)

One of Chishti’s favorite showing experiences was winning with a red Hereford steer named Batman at the Washington Town and Country Fair two years ago, even though the fairs usually prefer Angus, a different breed of cattle. 

“I won Reserve Champion with my Hereford steer, and a couple of other Hereford breeders [from our farm] were all very happy. I think a Hereford hadn’t won in 25 years until I won at that show,” Chishti said. “Everybody was just really supportive and proud. Sometimes, at shows where it’s all Herefords, if you win, people get really mad at you, and aren’t happy for you. But luckily, at this show, everybody was just genuinely happy that there was someone who did well with her animal, that was a Hereford and not an Angus. So that was fun.”

In past years, Chishti became overly critical and serious about shows. So this year, she has developed a new mentality to simply have fun, do her best and enjoy spending time with her family. 

“[I changed my mind because] I understand the negative [things] that other people think when I win, and I don’t like that behavior. So I’m not a big fan of the passive-aggressiveness, the fakeness and the judgmental attitude that I get from some of these really big cattle people. And I don’t feel like dealing with their homophobia either,” Chishti said. “I just realized I don’t want to be like these people. I wanted to win, and I almost felt like I was becoming these people. So I just decided to change my attitude and goals [to get] what I want from this: having fun, working hard, being a good person and surrounding myself with good people.”

Chishti and her family are passionate about their cows, and she wishes to correct the misconception that local farmers treat their animals poorly or even abuse them. 

“I think it’s so important to not look at these animals like they’re animals and understand that they have brains. You look at a dog and see it as your family member. People should understand that farmers look at cattle like their family members. Of course, it’s also a business, but we [local farmers] also love and care for them,” Chishti said. “Farmers love what they do, and they do it for a reason. My stepdad and I have stayed out so many nights, and we wake up at 3 a.m. to check on these cattle that are about to have babies. We take precautions to do things so these animals don’t get hurt, and we just do everything to keep them safe.”

After Chishti graduates, her parents plan to sell all the animals and convert the farm to a vineyard. They also will be growing sunflower seeds to sell.

“Over the past nine years, I’ve gotten definitely a really good work ethic and also a lot of confidence from doing this. I’m able to present myself confidently and talk to people easily because of cattle,” Chishti said. “I’m really happy that I had the opportunity to show cattle. It’s a really good way to learn self-discipline because I have to go out there every day, and it just gives consistency to my life. I think that [when I] graduate, it’ll be good that I can move on and do other things because I can’t [work on the farm] forever.”