Catch-a-Calf

“I was really proud of myself because it was an actual calf. Not a sheep like we do at the county fair. It was pretty big,” said Alice Zuber, 15, of Fairplay. She participated in the National Western Stock Show Catch-A-Calf program Jan. 18 at the Denver Coliseum. (Photo courtesy of Tara Zuber)

Last weekend, one local 4-H member got ready for some excitement on the big stage when she participated in one of National Western’s favorite traditions, the Catch-A-Calf program.

Saturday, Jan. 18, Alice Zuber, a 15-year-old Fairplay resident, was one of ten 4-H youth members to race out into the stadium arena during the matinee rodeo to catch a calf, halter it, and lead it back to the bucking chutes.

Zuber was successful, which means she wins a market steer that she will return to show at next year’s stock show.

“I was pretty nervous. It didn’t hit me until I walked out into the stadium arena and saw everyone up in the stands,” Zuber said.

“We were standing in the line and one calf looked at me, straight in the face, and he was one of the smaller calves. So I decided to go for him. I hung on to his neck and got ready to ride,” Zuber recalled of her approach to catching her calf.

The Catch-A-Calf program began in 1935 when 10 boys caught 10 sponsored calves. According to the National Western Stock Show website, soon after World War II, the program settled at giving away 40 calves per year, which is where the number continues to stand today.

This year, Catch-A-Calf contests were held during the rodeo performances in the Coliseum last Friday, Saturday, and twice on Sunday, Jan. 17 through 19.

Tara Zuber, Alice’s mom, proudly watched in anticipation from the stadium seats.

“It was insanely nerve-racking. Edge-of-your-seat type thing. I didn’t sit down! We were so happy she and all the ten kids caught a calf. She was the first one to run out there,” Tara said.

If the 4-H member successfully wrestles a calf into the chutes, they receive a steer in May, when the real work begins. Zuber’s tasks will include gaining his trust, halter-breaking, getting him ready to show, plus the hefty responsibilities associated with daily care and feeding.

A year from now, in January 2021, members eagerly return to the Stock Show with their market steers to be judged on showmanship, their record book, and a personal interview.

The steers are judged on rate of gain, quality of fitting, and carcass quality.

“I’m more nervous about my calf and what’s expected at the stock show. I’ve never had a calf before.” Zuber said.

Throughout the year she and her new steer will be supported by local mentors and her family.

“My sponsors will be helping me a lot. All of my 4-H leaders have already been supporting me with the projects I have this year. I’m excited to bring him into the club and open it up to the other members. They can learn from this experience, too,” Zuber said.

Zuber also showed her horse and breeding ewes at the stock show this past weekend. Earlier this month, she and three local members volunteered through the Park County Fair Royalty program by attending the Stock Show Kick-Off Parade and assisting with school visits.

Jennifer Adams, Park County 4-H extension agent explained the importance of the National Western Stock Show.

“It provides the 4-H members with many opportunities for learning from experienced producers,” Adams said. “It also promotes our county and fair, and develops a sense of community through volunteering.”

As for a name of her new steer? Zuber will name him “Ketchup, because he’s red and because he’s basically a big block of meat,” the teenager quipped.

Zuber is the President of the Columbine Kids 4-H Club in Fairplay and was named a Queen Attendant for the Park County Fair Royalty Program last summer. She has been a 4-H member for seven years.

“I started out as a girl with a horse. I joined 4-H and slowly involved myself with goats and lambs. I thought I want to be there one day at the stock show, breeding ewes.” Zuker said of her 4-H accomplishments.

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