National Western’s “Most Loved Tradition;” More Than Just a Cattle Show

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Catch A Calf exhibitor and steer in the Junior Auction

Lined up in the middle of the Denver Coliseum rodeo arena, kids wait on what could be their very own calf to be released from the chutes- if they can catch it. The only thing going through Rowan Wasinger’s head is, “I don’t care how, but I’m going to catch one.” 

Rowan is one of the nearly 3,000 National Western Stock Show Catch-A-Calf Program participants over its 80-year run. This is the National Western’s longest-running practical beef cattle management program and allows young adults, ages 14-18, from Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The Catch-A-Calf program gives participants a chance to catch a calf and take it home or to a ranch location, feed it, take great care of it, and return to the Stock Show one year later with the animal as a market-ready steer to exhibit at the Catch-A-Calf Show. 

Catch A Calf exhibitor and steer in the Junior Auction
Rowan Wasinger and her steer in the 2023 Auction of Junior Livestock Champions

Upon returning to the Stock Show, each Catch-A-Calf steer will be judged on production and carcass quality. At the same time, the participants are judged on showmanship, record books, sponsor relations, and personal interview. If the whole purpose of Catch-A-Calf was to teach young adults how to raise and show a steer, then it would likely not be one of the longest-running programs at the National Western. This program teaches these young adults how to raise and show quality cattle. It inspires a life-long love for the industry that fuels the world and agriculture, all while teaching them valuable life skills. 

For many participants like Rowan, Catch-A-Calf is an open door into the world of agriculture and exhibiting cattle. It often sparks a life-long passion for the cattle and livestock industry. It is the opportunity for these young adults to experience production agriculture and to be a part of something bigger than themselves. 

I should know, I was a Catch-A-Calf participant.  In my personal experience, Catch-A-Calf was my introduction to the world of agriculture. I grew up on 25 acres in the Eastern Plains of Colorado. Agriculture, corn fields, wheat fields, cattle, bison, and so much more were all around me. I saw it every day, yet I knew little about it or the countless hours that went into it. When I participated in Catch-A-Calf, I realized just how important agriculture is and all the time that goes into the many facets of cattle production. Catch-A-Calf was an amazing way for me to delve into the agriculture industry and grow a tremendous appreciation for the people that keep the world fed. 

Catch-A-Calf allows young adults to cultivate meaningful relationships with fellow participants, sponsors, and industry men and women. It teaches these young adults so many valuable life skills that they can use beyond the show ring. “It’s just great. I have like six new friends from Kansas, some from Nebraska, a whole bunch from Colorado, a whole bunch from Wyoming, just from this experience,” said Rowan. After Rowan was crowned the Grand Champion Catch-A-Calf participant, she was flooded with love from so many of her fellow exhibitors. Nothing but smiles, hugs, and words of encouragement surrounded her as she walked back to the crowd of participants. This shows the level of respect and love these young adults have for each other and the lifelong friendships they have formed during their year together. 

As for operational skills, the Catch-A-Calf program teaches young adults many of those talents as well. “Catch-A-Calf has been such an incredible experience; it has taught me so many important life skills. I think the biggest is the importance of good record keeping,” said Rowan. One of the most important parts of agribusiness is good record keeping: knowing where and when money is coming in, where and when it is going out, and what medication has been administered to which animals and when. Without good records, a business cannot succeed. The Catch-A-Calf program recognizes the need for this skill and teaches these young adults just how vital it is to keep records up-to-date. It requires all participants to maintain an extensive catalog of all sales, purchases, and health records related to the project. Not only are updated record books needed, but participants must also communicate frequently with their program sponsor through monthly letters, discussing the animal’s health and wellbeing, halter-breaking experience, feed, and monthly gain, as well as any results from a county or state fair they may have shown at. This portion of the contest is so important, as it teaches participants the importance of keeping accurate records and communicating with stakeholders.

The Catch-A-Calf Program is so much more than just a cattle show. The program is about developing future generations of agriculturalists and leaders. This program teaches young adults the skills they need to be good showmen, leaders, agriculturalists, and, most importantly, good people. 

Step into the Stadium Arena during the first weekend of the National Western Stock Show. You’ll see the difference this program is making in these young adults’ lives and agriculture’s future.

For more information about the National Western Stock Show Catch-A-Calf Program, visit: Catch-A-Calf Program

Kendal Powell, 2023 Marketing & Communications Intern

Blog post by:
Kendal Powell, 2022 & 2023 NWSS Marketing & Communications Intern

Kendal Powell is a senior at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas, where she is pursuing a degree in Agricultural Media and Communication. At WT, she is a member of Collegiate FFA and Agriculture Communicators of Tomorrow. After graduation, Kendal hopes to pursue a career in Ag Communications, where she hopes to bring awareness of the western way of life to audiences of all backgrounds. This was Kendal’s second year as an intern at Stock Show, and she hopes to be involved in many more Stock Shows in the future!