Students auction their animals today at Tarrant's junior livestock show

FORT WORTH -- Young Tyler Griffeth, 9, may be 60 pounds with his boots on, but that didn't stop him from keeping his goat in check.

Tyler braced himself against the 89-pound animal, keeping a tight grip on the halter as a judge circled the ring one last time.

The fourth-grader was shocked when he won grand champion in the market goat division Friday morning at the Tarrant County Junior Livestock Show.

"I thought he was going to go to another kid and not me," said Tyler, who was examining his silver and gold champion belt buckle in awe.

Tyler, of Bedford, is a second-generation contestant at the show, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary. He became interested in showing two years ago when he found his mother's box of ribbons and awards.

Anne Griffeth took part in the show about 25 years ago and was excited that her son was taking it up. She now serves on the show's board to help raise scholarship money for participants.

"It gives them confidence to go out and be someone in life," she said. "It did that for me when I was here."

From the beginning

The show began with about 30 students in 1950 under the Jacksboro Highway bridge on a parking lot where the RadioShack headquarters now stands. W.A. "Bill" King, a former director of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, was one of the founding organizers who wanted a place for students to showcase their livestock projects.

The show eventually moved to the swine barn of the Will Rogers Memorial Center and had its first sale in 1976, when the champion steer went for $1,050. This weekend, the show has about 400 students, and today's auction could easily bring in several thousand dollars for a steer. Last year, the auction raised nearly $200,000 for students.

The students showcase goats, pigs, rabbits and cattle as well as baked goods, crafts and welding projects. This is the third year the show has included a youth fair to highlight the nonlivestock entrants, with students displaying photography, woodwork, sewing and more.

Organizers said the show helps students in an urban county learn about ranching and related fields so that they might pursue them as a career.

Sierra Watkins, a seventh-grader at Leonard Middle School in Fort Worth, was showing a goat for the first time. Bathing the animal and keeping it clean for the ring were a lot of work, she said, but she was having fun.

"The hardest part is that this goat is not broken, so it's a little difficult to walk her," Watkins said. "She gets distracted and likes to go in circles."

Getting attached

To participate in the show, students must be members of a 4-H or FFA club.

Students learn early that much of the livestock ends up being sold for meat, and they take steps not to get too attached, such as not naming the animals. But sometimes, the reality is difficult.

Juan Ramirez, a Crowley High School junior, was happy to win reserve grand champion during his first time showing a rabbit but was a little torn.

"My sister has a rabbit, and you get attached to them," he said. "Now it's going to die. It kind of sucks."

But Ramirez said he knows that's part of the process and is focused on making the best sale he can. Last year, the top rabbit sold for $2,000.

One of the biggest buyers each year is usually Tarrant County Commissioner J.D. Johnson, who show organizers estimate has spent more than $500,000 over the past three decades.

Johnson, who showed livestock as a child, got involved with the county show when his children were in school. Now he collects money through the year from fellow commissioners, elected officials and, well, anyone he can talk into donating to the cause.

If a student's project isn't getting as much as others in the auction, Johnson said, he will work to push the bids higher.

Johnson will then sell the animals at market and use the proceeds, usually just a fraction of what he paid, toward the pot for the next year's auction.

"I try to make sure that all the kids get a fair price for their animals," he said. "The main thing is these kids stay out of trouble and make the grades to show. This is just a reward for them."

EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700