OURAY COUNTY –
Three years ago, Ara Norwood was the only kid in Ouray County showing a steer in the new “Bred and Fed” class at the 4-H fair.
The class was developed as a means to showcase calves that were born and raised in Ouray County – as opposed to calves that come from out-of-county breeders.
This year, nine out of the 11 steers being shown at the fair are local. They come from five different ranches: Wolf Cattle Company, Stanton Ranch, Double RL, Fisher Ranch and Orvis Springs Ranch.
It’s a trend that Ara’s dad, Bruce Norwood, is proud of. “When I tried to get this program going three years ago, I never ever guessed this many ranchers would be exposed and this many animals shown,” he said.
Norwood is a member of the Ouray County Fair Board and a ranch hand who works for Wolf Cattle Company. He knows first-hand that local calves are just as good as those that are bred specifically to be shown – but they can be a lot of work.
The calves spend the first part of their lives out on the range basically living like wild animals, and are not used to being handled by humans.
“When you pull ‘em off the mountain they are wilder than wild gets,” Norwood acknowledged. “So, it is tough to show an in-county calf for that reason but it also shows that the child can work with them, which is what 4-H is about.”
Norwood realized he needed to sweeten the deal for the kids a little bit – even his own – to get them more interested in showing local calves.
So he spearheaded an effort to follow the example of other 4-H fairs on the Western Slope and institute the new Bred and Fed class. Winning the class comes with significant perks. Two local ranches – Wolf Cattle Company and Double Shoe Cattle Company – have donated winner’s jackets adorned with the Bred and Fed logo. And there’s $500 in prize money at stake from the Ouray County Cattleman’s Association – $300 for the Bred and Fed Grand Champion and $200 for the Reserve Champion.
That’s a whole lot more than the ribbon and $4 that the Grand Champion winner would otherwise get with an out-of-county calf.
The benefits go both ways. While the kids get cash and swag, local producers get extra exposure for their cattle. In all, Norwood estimates, there are well over 20 producers in the county, so there’s still plenty more room for the program to grow.
Last year, the Norwood kids – Ara and her little brother Cade – took home both Bred and Fed jackets and all of the prize money. Cade got Grand Champion and Ara got Reserve.
This year, with nine 4-H kids showing local steers, the competition will be tougher. But that’s fine by Bruce Norwood. “That’s what I was after when we instituted the new class, to make it worthwhile to show calves from this county,” he said.
The Bred and Fed class also helps level the playing field for struggling ranch families in a tough economy. A local calf purchased at market price is often much cheeper than a show calf from an out-of-county breeder. In some cases, local ranchers are even willing to donate a calf or sell it at a steep discount to a local 4-H kid looking to get into the Bred and Fed program.
Kids can do the math.
“That’s part of the point of the 4-H program,” Norwood pointed out. “To learn how to break even or make money on livestock.”