Doing well in the Junior Steer Show is a two-edged sword, said Cassie Jo Bennett, a 15-year-old freshman from Greenwood.
Bennett was getting her American steer, Choco, settled in a stall in the Moncrief Building after she and her dad endured the wait among hundreds of pickups towing livestock trailers into the Will Rogers Memorial Center complex. In her sixth year of showing steers at the Fort Worth Stock Show, Bennett knows what often happens to them after it’s over. Making the sale of champions brings substantial financial rewards, but it also can mean saying goodbye to a buddy.
“Sometimes making the sale is good, but bittersweet, because you have to let go, and I always get attached,” said Bennett as she scratched Choco between his ears. “You have steers for a year or more and it’s hard not to get attached.”
The shows start Thursday at 8 a.m. in W.R. Watt Arena with lightweight angus, the first of six breeds in 27 classes. It culminates with the heavyweight European cross shows Friday afternoon. The Junior Sale of Champions begins at 9 a.m. Saturday in West Arena, in the Richardson-Bass Building.
Out of around 3,800 entries, the top 10 steers in each of 27 classes will make the sale, said Jason Lesikar, one of 19 steer show superintendents who volunteer from Tuesday through Saturday to ensure every youngster has a good time showing in Fort Worth.
“It takes a lot of us,” Lesikar said. “But these kids put in a lot of time and hard work to get these animals ready to show. They absolutely deserve as good an experience as we can give them.”
Bennett said she has washed and worked with Choco every day, balancing her time with him against school work, volleyball, and the other animals she shows.
Lesikar said there will be up to 270 steers in the sale, because not all the winners want to let go. Unless they earn champion or grand champion, it’s up to the owners whether to send the animals away or keep them.
“The grand and reserve are going away no matter what,” he said. “But the kids can decide they want to take the other animals home, or maybe to another stock show.
“The rest can go to market and bring whatever we set as an above-market price per pound,” he said.
Bennett, for instance, plans to take Choco to the San Antonio stock show a week after Fort Worth’s show closes — unless he proves to be a champion. She wouldn’t speculate on his chances.
“For my sixth steer, I feel like it’s all in God’s hands,” she said. “Whatever he blesses us with, we’ll go with it. I’ve done well enough in each show to buy my next year’s entry.”
Like virtually all competitors, Bennett is keeping a bank account from her winnings that not only pays for her next project animal, but also is destined to help pay her way at either Texas Tech or Tarleton State. Ultimately, she has her heart set on becoming a veterinarian with a doctorate from Texas A&M.
“I’m also counting on scholarships through 4-H,” she said.
For Kevin Crawford, one of four dads who help wrangle the Greenwood kids in Midland County 4-H, hopes for college money are high. He said all of the Greenwood students work their butts off, because they all live on working ranches.
Doug Keeling knows about motivated kids. He said his 10-year-old daughter, Kailyn, worked four to six days a week with her Hereford steer, Slacker, depending on how busy she was with other stuff.
In addition to raising Slacker, Kailyn plays volleyball and raises Duroc, spotted and cross-breed barrows (castrated before puberty) for show.
Keeling taught his daughter about raising animals and about showing them. The Keeling family runs about 30 head of cattle on their 100 acres in Bastrop County. The biggest change from when he and his wife showed animals is that it seems more and more folks in the shows aren’t actually part of the industry.
“We raise enough animals to pay for what we’re doing,” Keeling said. “When we were kids, we showed because we already had the animals. Now, some people buy an animal and the kid keeps it in an ag barn at school. All they know about agriculture is what they learn in order to show. There aren’t as many families doing it.”
Lesikar lamented that he never got to show animals, despite his family having hundreds on their ranch.
“I was in a private school that didn’t have FFA, and I didn’t know about 4-H,” he said. “I watch how much fun these kids have and regret not getting the opportunity. Volunteering as a superintendent is a way to give back to the ag industry.”