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Catch a Calf, Youth participate in NWSS program

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Denver, Colo. – The Catch-a-Calf (CAC) program at the National Western Stock Show (NWSS) is one of the oldest running programs, dating back to 1935. This year marks the 78th year of the program. 

“To be in the program no prior experience raising beef is required. For a lot of kids, this is a great way to see if handling and being around cattle is something that they are interested in,” said Molly Keil, NWSS co-superintendent of the program. 


Participants in CAC not only gain experience with handling cattle, but they also receive a better understanding of the beef industry and an opportunity to become more involved with it. 

“There are some kids who have raised beef for many years, and this is a just a chance for them to go to a higher level and show at the National Western, rather than at a local county or state fair,” explained Keil.

To participate, contestants must be from Colorado, western Kansas, western Nebraska or Wyoming and be between the ages of 12 and 18. A total of 34 contestants were at this year’s NWSS, and six of them were from Wyoming. 


4-H members who become a part of the CAC program must attempt to catch a calf during one of the four rodeo performances at the NWSS. The 4-Her doesn’t take home the exact calf caught during the rodeo but is rather awarded a market animal.

“They go up there and just try to catch the calf. They can’t rope it, and they can’t trip it. They just have to grab onto a calf and put a halter on it,” stated Keil. 

After catching a calf, members return to Denver, Colo. in May, where they meet the sponsor who supplied the calf and are given their materials for the program. 

Sponsors of the CAC program can be a person, business or organization who has purchased a calf for the NWSS for a 4-H member to raise and show them. 

“The participants never truly own a calf. The calves are all owned by the National Western Stock Show, so the members are just entrusted with the steers to raise them,” said Keil. 


The recipients of calves must keep a record book and write a monthly letter to their sponsor informing them about the progress of their steer, along with a personal touch about what is going on in their life. A copy of this letter must be submitted to Keil as well. 

Natrona County 4-H leader Devonine Mueller said, “The program is very good for the kids because it makes them learn record keeping and letter writing skills, along with how to feed cattle and their feed conversion rates. Plus they learn a lot about the beef industry.”

When the youth show up to NWSS the next year, they must also give a two-minute speech on what they have learned from the CAC program and how has it changed their view on the cattle industry. 


“All of these aspects of this program – the record book, the timeliness and detail in the sponsor letters – are graded on a point based system,” said Keil. 

Those scores are added to placings from shows at the NWSS to determine a champion and reserve champion in the program.

The winner of the CAC program does not necessarily have to place first in all of the market and showmanship classes. They do, however, have to place in the top four. 

“Considering we have four classes, that makes 16 steers eligible. However, the winner is based on all aspects of the program, including the record book, sponsor letters, placement in the market and showmanship classes,” said Keil.  

Continual Participation

“I’ve learned, throughout the years, that there are some participants in CAC that this is their first year of experience, and they have gone onto to start their own herds and be very involved with the ag industry,” said Keil. 

An example of this occurring that Keil gave was Paula Kennedy. Kennedy was a contestant for Miss Rodeo America and was a past CAC participant.  

Madeline Robinson is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

Wyoming competes

Of the six Wyoming Catch-a-Calf (CAC) participants, two are from Natrona County, two are from Albany County and one come from each Platte County and Laramie County. 

The Natrona contestants are Tyra Zimmerle and Lainee Link. Zimmerle placed third in the overall CAC program and Link placed fifth. 

Kirby Hales and Tanner Wright are both from Albany County, and Hales placed second in the overall CAC program, while Wright placed 12th. 

Platte County participant Cindy Twiford placed 14th at the CAC and was in a tie for 10th place for the interview portion of the CAC. 

Hayden George was one of the top individuals for the sponsor letter portion of CAC and is from Laramie County. 

Wyoming participants in next year’s CAC are Joey Harris and Hailey Anderson from Albany County. Also, Wyatt and Clayton Atkinson from Natrona County will be competing in the program.


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