Hallettsville teen champion in Houston Livestock Show
March 20, 2012 at 5:01 p.m.
Updated March 19, 2012 at 10:20 p.m.
It takes a community to raise a champion pen of steers.
That's the message senior James Wick wanted to convey after winning grand champion in the commercial steer feeding and management contest at the Houston Livestock Show.
"I can't even begin to name all the people who have helped me through this experience," James said.
James said alumni of the program, parents of current ag students, past ag teachers, local businessmen and veterinarians all pitched in to assist. Record books are checked and practice interviews conducted.
"It's a tremendous amount of people involved," he said. "We have such a high standard here. It's a tradition."
That tradition is not lost on James' father, Hallettsville ag teacher and FFA sponsor Terry Wick.
Wick has been with the school for 14 years.
"It's become a tradition. It got started years ago under Paul Cook," said Wick. "It's built upon itself with continued community support."
James said he knew he had done well but was still surprised when his name was called during the awards banquet.
"It was great. I put a lot into these cattle," James said. "It felt good to have studied so hard, practiced on interviews and spent many hours on my record book, that it was all paying off. It didn't seem real at first."
The work included feeding the three steers twice a day, exercising and monitoring their health.
For the grand champion pen of steers, James won a Ford F-150 pickup and a $1,000 cash prize. He also netted a new belt buckle, a trophy and a banner.
With the prize, he not only upgraded from his 1998 Chevrolet pickup, he chose a larger truck - a new Ford SuperCrew (extended cab) version.
"I guess I am a Ford man now," he said.
James, 18, kept a winning tradition alive at the Houston show, becoming the fifth Hallettsville High School student in the last decade to take grand champion honors in the commercial steer feeding and management contest .
One of those past champions is the late Tyler Bludau, who died in an accident in 2009 after winning at Houston, someone James considered a mentor.
Tyler was a senior when James was a freshman.
"We spent hours upon hours studying together," James said. "He set my path to help me continue to work on this. I already knew I loved cattle and being around animals, but he opened my eyes to the feed lot business and how important it is."
Of the 17 Hallettsville students who took part in the 2012 Houston show, four placed in the top eight, including Emily Bujnoch, a junior, sixth; John Becan, a freshman, seventh and high-point rookie; and Ross Rother, a senior, eighth.
In all, 117 students from across the state took part in the commercial steer competition.
"We had by far the largest contingent there and it was our biggest since I've been here. To have four in the top eight is amazing," said Wick, whose students performed the same feat in 2008.
"Compared to market animals, this competition is more like the real world. It mimics the feed lot operation.
"Probably the biggest benefit these kids get is the speaking, the on-the-spot interview, the test and having a general knowledge of the industry itself," Wick said.
James has been involved with FFA since the third grade and been in the commercial steer program since the seventh grade.
The commercial steer competition is like simulating a feed lot, James explained.
"You don't really work with them at all. You don't halter them. You basically just raise them," he said.
The steers are tended to for 157 days and records diligently kept to be able to calculate average daily gain and feed conversion statistics.
"You weigh them the first day and the last day," James said. "When you arrive at the show, your cattle are weighed for a third and final time to know the sale weight."
At the show, there is a written test, two interviews and the record book is examined. Points are accumulated at every stage.
After graduation, James has been accepted into the Texas A&M Blinn Team program that allows him to enroll in A&M part-time and take other classes at Blinn College with the goal of full-time admittance to A&M.
He plans to major in ag business or ag economics with his sights set on becoming a feedlot manager.
As for all those helpers along the way, James tells them, "Just give me a call, and I'll give you a ride in the truck. I know you deserve it."