WHEATLAND – Bailey Fitzwater grabbed on to a steer’s tail and held on tight as it dragged her across the dirt. Why on earth would anyone do this voluntarily? To catch a calf, of course.
Catch-a-Calf Program has been around since 1935 and welcomes entrants from Colorado, Kansas Nebraska and Wyoming. The age range is from 12 – 18 and they need to be active in 4-H. The steer they catch is not the one they actually get. In May of this year, Fitzwater will meet with a sponsor and receive a calf that she must raise, feed and care for. Through the year she is required to show the animal at the county and state fair and then return to show it one last time at the National Western Stock Show in Denver in January. At the Stock Show, the steer is judged on rate of gain, quality of fitting and carcass quality. The exhibitor is judged on showmanship, their record book, and a personal interview.
“They lined us all up along a fence, let a bunch of steers out and just said, ‘go grab a tail and hold on,’” Fitzwater relayed with a look of excitement. “I happened so fast and was such a rush of adrenaline. I can’t wait until May when I get my actual calf.”
Fitzwater had to apply and be accepted to participate in the program. One of the requirements was a Letter of Recommendation from the local 4-H Extension office assuring the committee that she would be a good candidate. In the past, animals have died due to neglect. The local Extension office must certify the candidate has adequate facilities to raise the calf and the ability to care for it. Participants are only allowed to be in the program once. The staff finds a set of calves that are approximately 600-700lbs. come spring time that are all from the same herd to keep the playing field as level as possible. The goal is to win Grand or Reserve Champion. Only the top two placers are permitted to sell their steers and keep the profit. The remaining steers are returned to the sponsor.
Fitzwater has shown goats and cats at the 4-H fair, but this will be her first experience showing a steer.
“I’ve been around cows most of my life, helping my friends to rope and brand. But doing it on my own is a whole new experience,” said Fitzwater. “You have to be very dedicated if you want to do it. I really like showing animals and this will be a new challenge.”
She is planning on seeking out friends and local ranchers to help her navigate this new adventure. Keegan Meyer is at the top of her list of advisors since he also participated in the Catch-a-Calf Program a little over a year ago and placed high in the contest.
“It’s about learning how to profit from raising livestock, not just feeding them and having fun with them as pets,” explained Bailey’s mother, Jodie. “We’ll be asking other 4-H families that show steers for advice.”
“I think it’s whoever works the hardest and wants it the most is the one who wins,” Fitzwater said with a gleam in her eye. “But it’s a point system and it’s based on what the particular judges think is important. I’m nervous, scared and excited.”
A sophomore at Wheatland High School and one of many talents, Fitzwater wrote a poem and recently entered it in the Appelley Publishing National Student Poetry Contest. Her “The Night’s Melody” was selected for publication in the 2019 Rising Stars Collection.