Raising champion steers is all in the family

FORT WORTH -- Six young people stood in the middle of Watt Arena shortly after lunch Friday, waiting for the judge to decide whose steer deserved the title of 2011 grand champion of the Stock Show.

Two of those six were from O'Donnell, population 1,000, in Lynn County near Lubbock.

They shared the last name even: Barton.

The odds that a Barton steer would claim the title were pretty good, considering that a brother and sister won two of the best-of-breed titles, an extraordinarily rare showing for one family in one show.

Sure 'nuff.

Out of 1,500 calves, Teddy, a smoky-colored European crossbred steer shown by Landry Barton, took top honors Friday in the Junior Steer Show, the climax of the livestock show.

"It's unbelievable," said Landry, a boisterous 17-year-old rendered nearly speechless by what happened to him.

His sister, Alyssa, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, was crying for him. She had stood just a few paces away with the grand champion polled Hereford calf.

The reserve grand champion steer was another European crossbred, named Tweeter and shown by Chad Pechacek of Hermleigh.

It was the 29th year in a row that a European crossbred was named grand champion.

The judge, Kevin Jensen, who owns a cattle operation in Courtland, Kan., described the two European crossbreds as "market ready."

"You'd like feed yards full of them," he told the standing-room-only crowd.

The grand champion steers, as well as barrows, lambs and goats, will headline this morning's Sale of Champions, a high-dollar, freewheeling auction in the West Arena built around rewarding FFA and 4-H youngsters for their hard work.

Last year's grand champion steer sold for $210,000.

Today marks the conclusion of the Stock Show, which is ending one day early because of Super Bowl XLV.

The Bartons -- dad Wayne is a cotton farmer and mom Kathy is a teacher -- came to Fort Worth on Monday because they wanted to arrive ahead of the winter storm.

Coincidentally, Alyssa's steer, Harvey, weighed the same as Teddy -- 1,333 pounds.

Showing animals in the Stock Show is a long family tradition, although neither youngster had ever had a breed champion before. They bought quality calves last year, though, and worked every day, their father said.

"We've had a lot of good help," he said. "It's been a team effort."

The back area of the Watt Arena reflected that with what seemed like a good percentage of O'Donnell celebrating with the Bartons.

"We're all very close," said Kim Williams, who knows the family. "When one does well, we all do."

Pechacek, one of 15 seniors at Hermleigh High School, has been showing steers for nine years, said his mom, Melinda Pechacek. He's one of five FFA students who brought steers to the show from Hermleigh, a tiny town between Snyder and Abilene.

Tweeter weighed in at 1,297 pounds, although Pechacek thought he might have gained a few in Fort Worth.

He bought the steer for $10,000, and he figures he spent $3,000 on feed and veterinarian bills. He also put in a lot of sweat equity, having worked with Tweeter three to four hours a day almost every day since about mid-April.

Pechacek expressed modest hopes for the auction, wanting enough to pay for raising Tweeter.

"That would be nice," he said.

Joe Campbell, his FFA teacher, said he's likely to get more than enough to pay his way through Tarleton State University, where he wants to go.

That much is true. Last year's reserve grand champion went for $200,000 at the Sale of Champions.

Chris Vaughn, 817-390-7547

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

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