Eagle County Fair and Rodeo: Beef – it’s what’s for winners
EAGLE, Colorado – Judging steers is like picking NFL linebackers: Do you want the prettiest or the one you can afford?Local 4-H kids have been showing animals all week, culminating in Saturday’s Junior Livestock Auction. It starts at 1:30 p.m., and it’s one of the crowning events of the annual Eagle County Fair and Rodeo.The steers took their turn in the show ring Friday morning.
Like most of America, it’s what you’ve got, but it’s also how you show it to people. But you knew that.You probably didn’t know this: The kids have to grow hair on their animals. To do that, they keep them in a cool, dark place, like most perishables.The irony is not lost on them, that refrigerating their steer is a preview of its immediate future.Fans are common in stalls. Some go as far as air conditioning. When it’s cold, mammals grow hair to keep them warm.They keep them out of direct sunlight, because sun shrinks hair and they want lots of fluff. Then they have to be walked to tone their muscles – both kids and cattle.The 4-H kids shampoo and blow dry their animals, then arrange their cattle’s carefully coiffed hair to cover and camouflage imperfections.”It’s like a comb over for a bald guy,” said Kendra Parker, a life-long 4-H member who’s working on an agribusiness degree at the University of Wyoming.They didn’t teach her that college. She learned it in 4-H.They learn to accentuate the positive and downplay the negative by grooming their animals to look good and stand correctly.”If the steer has a weakness, they try to hide it,” said Chris Estes, a local rancher watching Friday morning’s show.Super Cuts has nothing on these kids.
Forget kindergarten. Everything you want kids to know they can learn in 4-H.They learn to handle tasks and creatures larger than themselves, such as horses and cattle.They learn public speaking, and how to conduct intelligent conversations with complete strangers.Justin Hergenreder, for example, is the livestock judge. He walks around the show ring asking each kid what they think they could do to improve their animal. They do NOT answer, “Nothing, it’s perfect. Can I have my championship banner now?” They have to actually talk with an adult they have never met.There’s a payoff, but the work comes first, 4-H kids have been taught.There’s a show circuit that sees kids travel around the state, accumulating points and working toward state titles, and some do that. There’s an entire show cattle industry. One guy gets $250 to show prep steers at the National Western Stock Show. It takes him four or five hours to complete a bovine beauty treatment.4-H is generous with college scholarships, so there’s that.But the immediate gratification is Saturday’s Junior Livestock Auction. It starts at 1:30 p.m. Kids will sell animals of all sorts. It follows months of work.The cattle kids got their animals in October or November. Most paid between $500 and $1,000 for their animals. A few breed their own. It’ll cost around another $1,000 to feed it between last fall and this summer.The Grand Champions and Reserve Grand Champions could fetch a handsome profit. For the rest, it’s a matter of lining up potential bidders before the auction. Kids can regularly be found campaigning from bank to bank, promising that if the banker buys their animal, they’ll put the money in that bank. Every year, bankers look up to discover that they’re bidding against each other – again.
It’s what’s on the plate that counts Judge Hergenreder knows what he’s looking for, and it turns out it’s the same thing you’re looking for. Looks matter, and the bovine beauty treatments do not go unnoticed, but an animal has to have it where it counts.”You’re looking for muscle, something to eat,” Hergenreder said. “An animal’s finish will tell you whether the meat will be tender and taste good. You also consider its structure and balance and how it moves across the ring.”He started showing 4-H animals when he was 8 years old, and now shows professionally. He raises Angus cattle on a Nebraska ranch and shows animals professionally.”The one that puts it all together will be your winner,” he said. “If you put four animals out there, they might all be great, but one of them will catch your eye.”