The landscape along Cibolo Creek southeast of San Marcos is dotted with small towns, farmhouses, double-wides and scrubby pastures. The thick black soil of the fields is mostly plowed under, waiting for spring.
Resiliency could be considered a cash crop.
Wyatt Blaylock, 15, a lanky and soft-spoken La Vernia High School freshman, is living the life of a young rancher out here, working his steers and investing, literally, in his future. It’s been a tough couple of years for Blaylock, who lost his father — who was helping him become a rancher — to brain cancer in April 2012, but he has persevered and is determined to keep his dad’s legacy alive.
“I’ve been showing since my third-grade year,” Blaylock said as he hosed off Frisco, his latest FFA project, during a two-hour beauty bath one recent sunny afternoon. “I started off showing pigs and switched to steers in fifth grade.”
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Blaylock will be showing Frisco this week at the Fort Worth Stock Show, which is in its final week and where much of the attention will be paid to the naming of the grand champion steer and the huge payday that comes with it.
Frisco, a 1,360-pound exotic European crossbred steer with a coal-black coat, comes from the same breeder of show cattle as Blaylock’s most recent steer, which was one of 12 10th-place finishers in its class at last year’s show in Fort Worth.
But Frisco and a second steer, Captain, are from better bloodlines that have produced grand and reserve champions.
Blaylock and his family took the leap of faith to use winnings from his previous livestock shows, plus donations from his family, to buy better show steers for the chance to finesse them into big-money champions.
Using his winnings to invest in the future was never a question in Blaylock’s mind.
“I knew I was going to buy more steers,” he said. “I’ll buy more next year, too.”
Blaylock wants to attend Texas A&M University and major in farm and ranch management.
“That’s all he’s been talking about since he started showing steers,” said his mother, Tara Martin, who required Wyatt to save some of his winnings for college. “He’s very dedicated to it, I’ll give him that.”
A surprising payday
In 2013, for the second straight year, members of the Stock Show Syndicate, a group of business leaders who put up thousands of dollars in prize money every year for the junior exhibitors, decided to “bid up” Blaylock’s steer.
When most steers in his class were going for $4.50 to $6.50 a pound, Blaylock’s sold for $17.50 a pound for a total of $20,895. His story was featured in the Star-Telegam and became an instant hit online.
“He took his earnings, and he has gambled two years of winnings to better his chances every time,” said Gary Ray, a past chairman of the syndicate who has taken a special interest in Blaylock. “He has the makings of a good little business.”
Frisco and Captain were bred in the Panhandle by Brian Martin Show Cattle of Hereford. Brian Martin is the brother of Wyatt’s stepfather, Kaleb Martin.
Brian Martin’s son, Stock Martin, showed last year’s grand champion steer, Lunchbox, at the Fort Worth Stock Show, earning a paycheck of $205,000 in the annual Sale of Champions.
Blaylock picked Frisco when he was a calf because “he’s big-boned, is more massive, is big over the top, and has good hair,” Blaylock said. The hair is important because Fort Worth is a “hair show,” where cattle are exhibited with a well-groomed coat of hair. Stock shows in Austin, San Antonio and Houston require a steer’s coat to be shaved to a quarter-inch.
Family members declined to say how much Blaylock paid for the steers, but Ray said a calf with a proven winning bloodline can cost $20,000 to $25,000. “Even if you get a discount, it’s a chunk of change,” Ray said.
Feeding and caring for that steer can run from $350 to $500 per month for the eight months or so it takes to get ready for the Fort Worth Stock Show, Ray said.
“It’s hard for the average kid back in the barn to compete at that level,” said Ray, who has been involved in the Stock Show for 28 years. “They go to school, sing in the choir, play ball, and take care of their animals. They’re all a bunch of grand champion kids.”
A daily routine
The work of raising a steer is routine, grueling, and then more routine. Wyatt gets up about 5:45 every morning, feeds and waters the steers and lets them off tether in their exercise yard, and goes to school.
When he comes home at 3:30 p.m., he begins a two-hour regimen. He halters Frisco, washes him with a garden hose and applies hair conditioner. When that is rinsed off, the hair is blow-dried and Frisco is put under drying fans.
Later, the steers are watered and fed (20 pounds of feed a day per animal, plus hay at night) and put up in their barn for the night.
Frequently Blaylock takes Frisco out and walks him around under the oak trees by the barn to reinforce the cadence of showing. He uses a show stick with a brush and hook on one end to fluff up the fur and coax Frisco to move his legs for a better stance.
Back in the barn Frisco and Captain begin mooing, calling to each other.
“They’ve been together all their life and they have separation anxiety,” Blaylock explained.
The Fort Worth Stock Show will not be Frisco’s first time under the lights; he came in third at the Wilson County Junior Livestock Show last month.
“I like doing it,” Wyatt said of raising steers, adding that the best part is winning.
When sale day comes and Frisco and Captain are out of Blaylock’s life, he says, he will move on right away.
“’It doesn’t really bother me,” he said. “I let them go, and then it’s time for the next round.”
Blaylock and his stepfather arrived in Fort Worth on Monday afternoon. Blaylock will get Frisco settled in at the Cattle Barn, show him Friday and attend the Sale of Champions on Saturday.
A special bond
During Wyatt’s participation in the 2012 Fort Worth Stock Show, his determination and old-fashioned grit first came to the attention of Ray and the rest of the Stock Show Syndicate.
“In 2012, he showed up with a giveaway steer,” Ray recalled. The steer had been given to him by his agriculture teacher’s daughters when something happened to the steer he initially planned to show.
“One of our buyers called and wanted a blond steer,” Ray said, and Wyatt’s animal sold for an above-average $15 a pound.
Blaylock had lived with his father, Anthony Blaylock, since his parents’ divorce and was his father’s primary caregiver during his illness.
“In the morning, I’d get up, go get the steers fed and watered, get ready, then I’d get him up and help him get dressed,” Blaylock said. “He couldn’t do the buttons, stuff like that.”
The two would get breakfast at a taqueria on the way to school.
Blaylock says the responsibility of the steers helped him cope with his father’s illness.
“It really helped me get my mind off of things when I was out there,” he said.
Anthony Blaylock could not attend the 2012 Stock Show and died that April at age 36.
But Wyatt Blaylock kept going, determined to become the rancher his father helped groom.
Some of his best memories of his dad were made when showing cattle at livestock shows, big and small ones all over the state.
“One time I was in the showroom, showing the bigger calf, and my dad was working with the smaller calf,” Blaylock recalled with a smile. “He was kind of crazy and 400 pounds, and he just took off running, dragging my dad all the way around the barn.”
‘Stands on his own two feet’
Anthony Blaylock was not a cattleman by trade. He worked for Ben E. Keith as a food and beverage distributor.
“They had to learn about the steers and the cattle business together,” Tara Martin said.
Father and son had both taken agriculture classes, from the same family of teachers.
“We have seen Wyatt have to take on so much responsibility. He has seen so much at such an early age,” said Lorie Kempen, one of Blaylock’s agriculture teachers before he moved to La Vernia. “His father knew their time was short and wanted to instill in him the qualities that would make him a man.”
Since moving to La Vernia, Wyatt is the new kid in agriculture class, but he says things are fine.
“Math and science classes, I do those because I have to,” he said. “In ag science, I volunteer to do everything.”
The move from middle school to high school has given him an extra hour in the afternoon to take care of steers.
“He was quiet at first, but he has really come out of his shell through the year,” said Eric Davis, his agricultural science teacher at La Vernia High School. “He is very prompt in turning in his work and making arrangements to get work that he will miss while he's out for Stock Show.
“He is a neat individual and has a great story.”
Blaylock’s idea of a good weekend is working with cattle and pitching in on family projects, maybe doing a little fishing in a nearby pond.
A really good weekend would be bay fishing in Port Aransas, he said.
And if it doesn’t work out this week in Fort Worth? Well, Captain’s waiting in the wings for the Austin Stock Show in March.
“Wyatt stands on his own two feet,” Kempen said. “He is loved by all that know him, and he is not afraid to take on life's challenges.”