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NWSS Catch-a-Calf program features Wyoming 4-H participants

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“We had never shown calves before, so we figured we could learn something new,” says Clay Atkinson of Medicine Bow.

Clay and his brother Wyatt were two of the Wyoming contestants in this year’s Catch-a-Calf contest at the National Western Stock Show (NWSS), along with Hailey Anderson and Joey Harris.

Program description

“The Catch-a-Calf program is one of the longest running programs with the NWSS,” states Molly Keil, the program’s co-superintendent.

Contestants are judged on showmanship, live placing, sponsor relations, record keeping, interviews and overall production of their steer.

“The year went by really quickly,” comments Atkinson.

The contest begins in January when participants must catch a calf at the NWSS.

“I was the first one to catch a calf. Wyatt got lucky and caught the last one in the group, so we didn’t have to try again in the afternoon,” Atkinson explains.

Receiving a calf

Successful contestants then wait until May, when they have breakfast with their sponsors, learn about contest requirements and receive a calf to feed and raise as a market animal.

“Wyatt’s sponsor was from Kansas and mine was from Lusk,” states Atkinson. “It was really neat to have a sponsor from Wyoming.”

Each participant receives a calf, paid for by their sponsor, which is between 600 to 800 pounds.

“All of the calves given out come from the same herd,” notes Keil.

Contestants receive points for their animals reaching a target weight, so one of the first things the boys had to do was plan out what kind of feed to use and the most efficient way to buy it.

“We had to work out how the feed would convert to target weights. There was a lot of figuring to do,” Atkinson says.


Participants also have to keep a detailed record book throughout the year.

“In our daily logs, we had to record everything we did and for how long,” he adds.

“They have to write a letter each month to their sponsor about the progress of their steer,” says Keil.

Contestants from the year before shared information so that the Atkinson’s could see what a winning book looked like.

“That was really neat. They helped us out a lot,” Atkinson notes. “They helped us to clip them and taught us what we needed to do, and they helped us get them all ready to show when we got down to Denver, Colo.”

Show time

When the contestants return to Denver, Colo. the following January, their calves are weighed and given a market value.

“The next day we had our interviews,” comments Atkinson.

Contestants were given a prompt before the show to use for a two-minute speech and spent three more minutes answering questions.

“We each had a time slot for that, and it went quickly. We had the rest of the afternoon to work with our calves, lead them around the ring and make sure they were ready for the next day,” he explains.

Once the calves are clipped, cleaned and ready to show, participants meet with their sponsors and then enter the ring.

Overall experience

“Wyatt and I did pretty well. It was neat experience,” he says.

The four Wyoming contestants placed well in all of the categories, including a first-place finish for Joey Harris as a Junior Livestock Sale Qualifier and First Place Overall Production Phase win for Hailey Anderson.

“Joey’s steer became eligible for the National Western Stock Show Junior Livestock Auction, which is a huge deal,” notes Keil.

Six new Wyoming participants from across the state have qualified for this year’s Catch-a-Calf contest.

“It is a wonderful program. I would recommend it to anyone that wants to be involved in the beef industry. We learned a lot and it was a fun deal,” Atkinson says.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at

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