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Wyoming student named as catch a calf champion

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Denver, Colo. – In a once-in-a-lifetime competition on Jan. 7, Wyoming 4-H member Kyle Despain from Laramie was selected as the 2018 Catch-A-Calf champion at the National Western Stock Show (NWSS). 

“Catch-A-Calf is one of the longest standing programs at NWSS and has been around for over 80 years,” says Catch-A-Calf Superintendent Molly Keil. 


To participate, applicants from Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas must be 4-H members between the ages of 12 and 18, notes Keil. 

“In January at NWSS, applicants participate in a rodeo performance where they have to try and catch a calf with their hands,” Keil explains. “The kids who catch the rodeo calves are then assigned a calf.”

After NWSS, participants go back to Denver, Colo. in May to pick up their calves, which they feed, train and raise for the next eight months until the next NWSS.

“Every contestant is required to maintain a record book and send letters to their sponsors every month, for which they receive points,” Keil states. “When they come to back to NWSS, participants are also awarded points for an interview about the program and how well they do in the livestock show, in both market and showmanship.”

Sponsors volunteer to buy the steers for participants and are typically individuals, families, business or supporters of NWSS and the Catch-A-Calf program, like the Elks Club, adds Keil. 

“The top two participants are chosen based on overall points for their record books, sponsor letters, interview and market and showmanship, and those youth sell their steers at the NWSS Junior Livestock Sale,” she mentions.


As the winner of the 2018 Catch-A-Calf program, Despain received a plaque and banner, along with the opportunity to sell his steer at the NWSS Junior Livestock Sale.

“I didn’t think I was going to win. I figured I had done well, but when I won, it was unreal,” stated Despain. “When my name was announced, my stomach dropped, I got butterflies and then ran over to my mom and gave her a big hug.”

For Despain, winning meant a lot because it showed how much work he had put into his steer and the competition.

“Three or four times a week I was washing and blowing out my steer to get his hair ready,” says Despain. “I put a lot of work into this project, and it was great to see all the hard work pay off.”

Jeff Vogel and Rawah Ranch were the sponsors Despain wrote letters to every month during the competition.

“In the letters to my sponsors, I told them about the progress we had made, like how much the steer had gained and how things in my life were going,” Despain explains.

In the competition, Despain placed first in his showmanship class, second in his market class, second overall in the sponsor relations, fifth in the record books, fifth in the interview and third overall in production.

“My Hereford steer was one of the smallest calves when we picked our calves up in May, but he turned out pretty good,” Despain comments.

Preparation and future

To prepare for Catch-A-Calf, Despain says he consulted with other people in Laramie who had participated in the competition before.

“A lot of people in Laramie had experience with Catch-A-Calf, so I referenced one girl’s record books who had won before,” he notes. “There were a lot of people who helped me during this experience, and I wouldn’t have gotten it done by myself.”

Despain believes Catch-A-Calf is an important program because, without it, some kids would be left out at NWSS.

“This program is one of the main parts of NWSS when it comes to involving kids and 4-H’ers. Most people who come to NWSS focus on the big shows and the high-quality livestock,” he states. “The hard work, determination and dedication the Catch-A-Calf exhibitors have are important to remember, too.”

Nine times out of 10, Despain would recommend other people participate in the Catch-A-Calf program.

“Catch-A-Calf is amazing and gives people the opportunity to compete, even if they’re like me. I have only shown one steer in my life,” Despain says. “I show lambs and pigs, but I took the chance and had a lot of fun.”

Despain mentions winners from year’s past have come back and helped by handing out ribbons and helping kids, so he’ll be back next year at Catch-A-Calf.

In the future, Despain will run for Wyoming State FFA Office in April, and he will show lambs and pigs this summer at his county fair.

“In the fall, I will attend Casper College and pursue a degree in either animal science or agriculture education, while livestock judging,” he says.

Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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