Trying to catch and halter a wary and skittish calf can be a little like trying to catch a greased ball, only the calf is a lot tougher.
But that doesn’t stop 4-H members competing in the Catch-a-Calf contest, organized by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.
The contest is a favorite of rodeo audiences, who get to watch youngsters ages 12-18 do their best to triumph over beasts. The contest is held five times during the National Western Stock Show in Denver, each time with 16 different youths and eight different calves.
This year, the Catch-a-Calf contests will be held during the 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. rodeos on Saturday (Jan. 15, which is Colorado State Day at the Stock Show); the 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. rodeos on Sunday (Jan. 16); and the 2 p.m. rodeo on Jan. 19.
This long-standing tradition at the National Western dates back to 1935, when the first group of
4-H’ers were turned loose with half as many calves for a chance to catch one and take it home as a 4-H project.
"The kids have a great time trying to outrun and outwit the calves, and the rodeo audience loves to cheer them on," said Sue Cummings, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension 4-H youth development specialist and coordinator of the contest. "But there’s more to Catch-a-Calf than having fun. The contest has been successful for years because it also teaches youth about responsibility and sportsmanship."
Youth who catch calves in the contest are eventually given that calf to take home and care for until the next year, when they bring the calf back to the National Western Stock Show and compete in a special beef class. Once the calves are released to the contest winners in May, the 4-H’ers are responsible for feeding and caring for the animal, keeping records about its health and care and writing regularly to contest sponsors, who donate the calves.
"When 4-H’ers win a calf in the Catch-a-Calf contest, they learn basic business skills," said Cummings. "For example, they begin to understand how important it is to keep records and maintain relationships with their business partners-in this case, the contest sponsors. They are also responsible for the well-being of an animal. Through that duty, these youth learn to follow through with their responsibilities, such as feeding and watering that animal every day. In the end, they’re rewarded for their efforts."
After caring for the calf for one year, contest winners return to the National Western Stock Show and show their calves. During this contest, each 4-H’er will be judged on his or her ability to show their animal. Participants who get their calf to an ideal weight, keep good records and maintain contact with their sponsor also will be recognized. Participants will receive a premium check based on the value of their calf’s carcass after harvest.
Last year’s winners will show their calves from 7 to 9 p.m. Jan. 20.
4-H, a program that teaches responsibility, skills and leadership to youth, is directed by Colorado State Cooperative Extension, an outreach arm of Colorado State University. 4-H programs, which target youth from age nine to collegiate level, range from traditional agricultural, family and consumer education programs to those meeting the needs of urban youth and modern society.
Projects include computers; raising livestock; youth community gardens; programs to reach at-risk youth; STAND, an anti-drug and alcohol abuse program; public speaking and character-building projects; and after-school programs.