Paradise agriculture students are prepping for one of the biggest and oldest livestock shows in Texas – one that brings huge crowds, and sometimes bitter cold.
The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo has been a tradition for 118 years and promises a chance at big money for kids in grades 3-12. The show starts Jan. 16 and lasts until Feb. 7.
It isn’t for the faint of heart. Paradise ag teacher Steven Bradshaw said the time commitment and discipline required for shows like Fort Worth’s are huge – but so can be the payoff.
Bradshaw will take more than 40 students back and forth as they show rabbits, cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, as well as ag mechanic and judging teams. The stock show ends with the coveted sales week where students vie for dollars. Bradshaw has had students earn from a couple hundred bucks to $20,000 from the auction.
Three such students are Reagan Taylor, Ray Edwards and Bradshaw’s daughter, Shelby. Taylor is taking heifers, and Edwards is showing steers, while Shelby Bradshaw will show swine. Each will compete against dozens of other students in their breed’s class.
For these students, taking part in the stock show is more than just a school project. It’s a family affair – a way of life that’s full of experiences.
“I got into it when I was 6 years old,” Taylor said. “It was a family thing. My grandparents raised cattle. I’m a part of the Texas Junior Limousin Association and that brought me to the Fort Worth Stock Show. I’ve met so many different people from that show that I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life.”
She said the sheer number of people at the Fort Worth show can be staggering – something Shelby said can be frustrating when trying to get to the arena.
“It is a challenge getting through the barns and getting around everyone,” Shelby said. “There are people all around, and the area isn’t that big. It is very difficult to get folks to move because they don’t realize pigs are coming through. Sometimes [the pigs] freak out, and it takes 20 minutes to get to the ring.
“After you do it for five or six years, you get used to it and learn how to lead them in.”
Unlike some species, big shows like the one in Fort Worth are the end of the line for pigs. It’s called terminal because bringing swine back to the herd after being around so many others can be a health hazard.
Showing pigs also requires handlers to lead them in using a stick and no other devices like halters for cattle. This means she has to train many pigs daily.
“Right now we have 13 pigs on feed. We have shown at Houston, San Antonio and will show at county and Fort Worth,” Shelby Bradshaw said. “It’s very difficult. You have to walk them every day with a stick. You have to teach them that this tap means right and this tap means left and this one means go. Eventually, they learn because they are really smart.”
She has been showing since she was 5. Her dad had an obvious influence, as did it her brother, Zack, now a county agricultural extension agent in Brownfield.
She said her first experiences at the Fort Worth Stock Show were a bit intimidating.
“The first time I competed in Fort Worth I got 19th, and it was really scary because I was really little,” Shelby said.
She said the scariness is long gone. Now the only thing she dreads is the cold. Pigs don’t like the cold. She said cold weather means constantly changing bedding and keeping heat lamps on. Since her dad is the ag teacher, it mean working with other animals, too.
“I remember a couple years ago when just my dad and I were hauling everyone’s pigs down to Fort Worth because there was an ice storm,” she said. “That week presented other problems as people couldn’t get there to help with their animals.”
Taylor said cattle can actually benefit from the cold weather.
“The cold doesn’t affect them too badly,” she noted. “It helps because they get fluffier. It’s just hard on us. Sometimes you have to grit your teeth and take the gloves off and get your hands wet.”
This is Taylor and Shelby’s senior year and their last trip to Fort Worth. They’ll still show through the summer, but that’s the end of the line. Edwards still has about five years left to show. He admits it’s a lot of work and fun.
“I’ve been showing for four years, so this year will be my fifth,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to going because it’s a lot of fun. You get to meet interesting people, and I want to kick everyone’s butt with my steers.
“I always smile and do my best not to lose my temper with my animal. These are very large animals and have a mind of their own,” he said. “They can fight you for nearly everything you do. Currently, the biggest one I have is about 1,300 pounds, and I weigh 95 pounds soaking wet.”