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To catch a calf: Oldham wins at National Western Stock Show

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Denver, Colo. – At last year’s National Western Stock Show, 15-year-old Lander student Jess Oldham caught a calf, along with nearly 40 other youth, to participate in the annual Catch-a-Calf contest.
    This year, Oldham showed his steer, bringing home the Grand Champion prize from the contest, marking the first Wyoming youth to win, according to sponsor Bill Waneka.
The contest
    Molly Keil, who works with the program’s record book and letters division, describes the program, saying, “Students apply and catch in January. Then, in May, they return and receive a steer for 240 days.”
    Keil notes that the steers all originate from the same breeder and are similar in type to level the playing field.
    “They return home and raise their steers and maintain a record book,” says Keil. “Participants are also required to write a monthly letter to their sponsors, telling about their calves and life in general.”
    All of the letters are also sent to Keil, who reviews them as a component of the final award in the contest. Beyond simply raising a calf, participants are judged on their record books, letters and an interview.
    “The purpose is to educate participants about the beef industry,” says Keil. “It’s about the learning experience.”
A history of catching calves
    Oldham isn’t the first one in his family to participate in the program, though he is the first to win at the National Western Stock Show.
    “The main inspiration for me to participate in the Catch-a-Calf program was my mother,” explains Oldham. “About six years ago, my brother participated in the New Mexico Sate Fair Catch-a-Calf program, and my mother thought it was a great idea for me to sign up.”
    “I also thought it would be cool to do the program like my brother,” adds Oldham. “He is a big inspiration for me too.”
    The contest wasn’t Oldham’s first chance to show steers, but he says that he learned a lot through the program.
    “I’ve showed calves before at county and state fair for four or five years,” says Oldham. “I’ve always had a lot of fun showing cattle.”
Learning more
    “I’ve never really paid attention to if I was making money or not,” says Oldham of his past show experience. “I really learned the expense and profit side of it. You try to break out even or gain some profit. It gave me a lot of respect and a new outlook on the industry.”
    The program provided a great learning experience for Oldham, who says it was a great opportunity.
    In raising a steer over the eight-month timeframe, Oldham says the project gave him some more responsibility aside from his school involvement and sports.
    “It’s an awesome program, and I would definitely recommend it to other people,” comments Oldham. “It’s a lot of work to keep caught up on all the record books and letters, but it’s a great opportunity.”
    Oldham also adds that the relationship with the other youth who also caught calves allowed him to work together with them and to learn more.
    “There were many kids who had never shown a steer before, and we bonded together and helped each other out,” says Oldham. “It was a team effort – not just everyone out for themselves.”
Great sponsors
    A ranch or family sponsors each student by purchasing a steer. Charles, Lois and Bill Waneka sponsored Oldham’s calf this year, and Oldham says they were very supportive and helped him to learn more.
    “The Waneka family was my sponsor. Charles is 92 and attended his first stock show at nine years old in 1929. He’s a great guy. Lois, his wife, is 88 and was very sweet and willing to help,” says Oldham of his sponsors. “It was great how willing to help everyone was, and how much they wanted me to do well.”
    The Waneka family was also impressed with Oldham.
    Bill Waneka says, “Everyone is always talking about how this program affects the young people, but if you could have seen my parents when Jess won, they didn’t know whether to cry, laugh or jump up and down.”
    Waneka continues, “Jess is an exceptional young man. He is outgoing, and deserves recognition for his accomplishment.”
    “I’ve been around many contests and many youth, and I’ve never seen a truckload of awards like Jess has for anyone else his age,” adds Waneka.
    Keil adds that the judging committee was also impressed, saying, “He is a very mature and well rounded young man, and he’s very talented.”
    “The interview judges were very pleased, especially when they learned how young he is,” notes Keil.
More than steers
    Oldham is the son of Dwayne and Denise Oldham of Lander and does far more than raising and showing steers.
    He is very involved in the Lander FFA Chapter and enjoys livestock judging, as well as basketball, soccer, football and choir, and he says he particularly enjoys science in school.
    After he graduates from high school, Oldham has big plans for the future, though he is only a sophomore.
    “I hope to attend Casper College on a judging scholarship, get an associates degree and go to a university from there,” says Oldham, who adds he wants to continue on to vet school after receiving his bachelor’s degree.
    Oldham is also one of only 90 eligible youth for the junior auction on Jan. 20 at the National Western Stock Show, and Oldham notes that, along with being the first Navajo to win the Catch-a-Calf contest at the National Western Stock Show, he is also the first Navajo to be entered into the junior sale.
    Oldham brought home a Grand Champion Overall Rosette and Plaque, as well as the first place ribbon for interview, intermediate showmanship and production records. He placed fourth with his market steer, second for his record book and also received a blue ribbon for sponsor relations along with his other achievements.
    Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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