Little ‘I’ embraces tradition, inclusivity


Little International is 5 to 9 p.m. March 31, and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 1, in the Animal Science Arena.


Since 1921, Little International has been a staple at South Dakota State. Modeled after the Chicago International Livestock Exposition, Little “I” has changed a lot over its 94 years, and this year promises new attractions in addition to longstanding tradition.

The expo is a tradition for SDSU and for many students. Senior exhibitor and staff member Allison Heine said her family has a long history of participating in Little International. Heine is participating in both the livestock show and other contests, as well as competing for High Point Upperclassman.

“I really like Little ‘I’ because it’s tradition,” Heine said. “My dad did it, and all of his brothers and sisters did it and now my brother and I are doing it. It’s cool to see all these kids from different backgrounds and experience everyone else’s traits in agriculture.”

The annual SDSU event’s claim to fame is its reputation as the nation’s largest student-organized agricultural exposition.

The theme for this year, “Best in the Midwest,” fits both the event and the staff, said Little “I” Assistant Manager Kendrah Schafer. The expo’s 163 staff members are in charge of organizing each competition, supervising livestock exhibitors and planning the event from start to finish. 

At this year’s Little International, spectators and participants alike can expect some new attractions, as well as continued traditions. 

An antique tractor show will be held for the first time this year. General Manager Dalen Zuidema said the idea was inspired by last year’s grand entry with managers riding in on an antique Farmall tractor.  

“Our current plan is to have however many tractors we receive be set up outside of the arena, mainly for Saturday, for the alumni to come see,” Zuidema said. 

Little “I” will also be working with the Agricultural Heritage Museum to enter some of the museum’s tractors in the show and to generate more interest for the event. Zuidema hopes that after the first year more alumni will participate and the tractor show will grow as an annual attraction.

Another new addition to the Little “I” lineup is the opening of the meat products competition to student clubs and organizations outside the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences. Groups of students across campus from all backgrounds are invited to participate and create their own smoked sausage recipe. 

“We wanted to extend that invitation and try and collaborate a little bit across campus and make sure we’re involving people outside of Ag and Bio,” Zuidema said. “We want to make an attempt to invite other people to take part in it.”

For other students who are new to Little “I,” the tradition is quick to catch on. Junior livestock exhibitor Tyler Myers transferred to SDSU last fall, but is already involved with the events. Originally from Ohio, Myers said he has experienced other shows similar to Little “I,” but that there’s nothing quite like it. 

“It’s definitely a big deal, that is for sure,” Myers said. “It’s definitely something very big and very exciting for people in the Midwest and even for the western states as well.” 

For Myers and many other SDSU students, Little “I” provides an opportunity to continue showing livestock even after they have outgrown their other competitions. Many exhibitors compete in the experienced livestock events, showing animal species they have worked with all their lives. 

“It’s that time of year for those individuals who are still fortunate to show livestock in the junior division,” Myers said. “Even for those of us that are no longer within the junior age category, it’s definitely an exciting time for us because this is our love, this is our passion, this is the agriculture industry and we’re the future of the industry.”

Little “I” is free and open to the public. All students and faculty are encouraged to attend. Zuidema and Schafer said people of all backgrounds are invited to come, whether they are involved in agriculture or not. 

“Everyone should come and take it in,” Schafer said. “It’s an SDSU tradition and you don’t have to feel like you need to know ag to come.”

Little “I” will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. March 31, and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 1, in the Animal Science Arena.

Following the closing ceremonies April 1, a dance and concert will be held at the Swiftel Center featuring the band Carolina Reign. Admission costs $10. 

For those unable to attend Little International, a live stream of the event is available on the Little “I” website.