The Arizona National Livestock Show (ANLS) is an event rich in history with its first organizational meeting taking place in 1948. Throughout the years, ANLS has morphed into different things for different folks. Some people see it as a family vacation, as the time of year in which the show takes place offers a break from school and work. The Arizona weather, which is far better than in snow ridden parts of the world, is another perk. For others, this show is the culmination of a year of hard work and the grand drive is their ultimate goal. And for a few, it’s a first encounter with the idea of showing livestock such as cattle, sheep, hogs, and goats. For the students of four Arizona high schools, it’s the chance to break into a world which might not have been open to them previously.
Showing cattle at livestock shows is a huge commitment, both a significant investment of time and money. It’s a luxury not afforded to many. However, the students of Rio Rico, San Simon, Bowie, and Mesquite High School all get the opportunity to exhibit cattle at the Arizona National Livestock Show each year with the help of their instructors and the community. Each school runs their program a little differently, but all have the same end goal: to involve students in agriculture who might otherwise not have had the chance.
Mike Zamudio at San Simon High School in San Simon, Arizona and his wife Kelly Lyda-Zamudio at Bowie High School work in close collaboration with the Southwest Brangus Breeders Association. Ranching members of this group lend their cattle, specifically heifers (female bovine who have not yet given birth to a calf), to the agriculture students at these schools. These students work with their heifers, teaching them to halter, how to be led on a halter, and how to stand the correct way for showing. This program, which was started nine years ago after Bill Morrison approached the Zamudios asking about their interest in the idea, offers scholarships and lifelong learning. One of the most important lessons Mr. Zamudio has seen his students learn through this program is confidence. He describes it best by saying, “There is a huge boost in their confidence levels. You can see the look on their face when the heifer takes those first couple steps and starts to follow and will let them catch them right away. You can see the bond between the heifer and the kid.”
Rio Rico High School in Rio Rico, Arizona is another great example of an agriculture education program working with their community. Mr. Richard McPherson, the agriculture education teacher at Rio Rico High School, has partnered with Doug Kuhn, a rancher from Willcox, with many projects. Allowing students to show cattle at ANLS is one of them. This program focuses on introducing students to the idea of showing cattle allowing them to determine if this an interest for the future. Mr. McPherson mentioned this was an excellent way to show the students the hard work and long hours it takes to show cattle and gives them an idea if it’s something they want to do on their own.
Students from Mesquite High School out of Gilbert, Arizona work hand in hand with the University of Arizona’s V-V Ranch, a working cattle ranch based out of Rimrock, Arizona. Throughout the year, students work closely with ranch managers to gain experience with branding, vaccination, and other working areas. During the late fall months, these students then begin preparations at their high school land lab to halter break, train, and eventually show feeder steers (male bovine who have been castrated) and heifers at the ANLS. This program started because of Jordan Selchow’s involvement with the V-V Ranch during college at the University of Arizona and the relationships he built while studying there with Dr. Dave Schafer and the Cannon family. Like the other three programs, this is an excellent way to give students the chance to show if they can’t do so on their own.
While each of these programs is unique, the overall goal and end results are the same: to give students a chance to experience the rewards of working hard and showing an animal at a major livestock show, while also instilling a strong sense of confidence and work ethic. When a student goes through an experience, such as training and showing a five-hundred-pound animal, something they’ve never done before and maybe even thought was impossible, confidence abounds in and out of the show ring. The lessons they learn from the extra hours of hard work along with the leadership skills they use when mentoring first-time students produce a young person who is more likely to continue forward on a successful path and might consider diving into the agriculture world. If this is a world they find interesting, these programs provide tools to build relationships and connections within this community and guide them on a path to future success.