Steering for a blue ribbon at the La Plata County Fair

Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018 10:20 AM
Ryan Jack, 11, holds her steer, Prince, a Salers and Simmental cross, at a friend's ranch. Ryan will show Prince this week at the La Plata County Fair. She hopes to sell Prince at Saturday night's livestock auction. Ryan is the daughter of Dani and Mathew Jack.
Ryan Jack, 11, brushes Prince, which will be shown Friday at the livestock auction as part of the La Plata County Fair.
Ryan Jack, 11, has been raising Prince since December. During that time, the steer has gained 500 pounds.

Since December, 11-year-old Ryan Jack has spent two to three hours a day with her steer, Prince. She walks him twice a day for exercise, monitors his diet and brushes and trims his hair.

"There's a lot of primping," she said. "He's super cuddly. He's a pretty sweet cow."

The 70th annual La Plata County Fair begins today and will run through Sunday. Popular events include the carnival, the demolition derby and a rooster crowing contest Saturday morning. Members from 4-H will also present livestock for judges, which can be sold at an auction Saturday.

On their daily walks, Ryan of Hesperus works with the 1,400-pound steer to ensure he is obedient and follows her instructions in hopes he will win a blue ribbon in the 4-H Market Beef category. She had previously shown pigs at the fair, but last year, decided she wanted to try her hand with a bigger animal.

"I started working with smaller animals, and I liked it," Ryan said. "I just enjoy working with animals."

An early love for animals

Ryan Jack, 11, tries to coax Prince into his stall at a friends ranch. Ryan will show Prince this week at the La Plata County Fair. Ryan says she has learned responsibility by raising a calf. Ryan is the daughter of Dani and Mathew Jack.
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Ryan's father, Matthew, grew up on a horse farm that also raised cows and pigs. He participated in 4-H as a kid and encouraged Ryan to join.

Ryan, who will enter sixth grade later this month at Escalante Middle School, has been a member of the Mountain Shadows 4-H Club for the past two years. However, she has been working with animals since she was 2 years old when she helped her baby-sitter's kids care for their pigs. That passion continued during grade school, when she would go over to a friend's farm after school and help care for her pigs.

Currently, Ryan joins about 35 other kids once a month in the Breen Community Building in Hesperus for their Mountain Shadows 4-H Club meeting, one of the largest 4-H clubs in La Plata County. At the meeting, they discuss and vote on upcoming community service projects, present seminars and demonstrations and share tips with others about projects they are working on.

"It's a chance for all the kids to come together and talk to other kids that are on the same project," club co-leader Penny Crawford said. "And it's a great chance for parents and kids to ask any questions they may have."

The La Plata County Fair is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Prince, a Salers and Simmental cross steer, will be shown Friday by Ryan Jack, 11. Ryan is the daughter of Dani and Matthew Jack.
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Ryan is relying on her peers at the club for tricks on how to care for her steer.

"Ryan's a great kid," said club co-leader Penny Crawford. "She's very smart, works hard, quick-learner. She is just a good person to be the face of 4-H."

Two years ago, Ryan bottle-fed a calf that didn't have a mother and has been interested in the animal ever since.

'I had to be the boss'Ryan got Prince in December and hasn't taken a day off from care for him during that time, she said. She learned pretty quickly she had to be more dominant with him than she was with the pigs.

"You have to work with him little by little," she said. "He's a lot heavier than a pig, so he can usually do what he wants if he wants to. I had to be the boss even though he's a big animal. I like getting to work with him and seeing the improvement."

Ryan feeds Prince barley, corn and oats to ensure he makes weight, though sometimes she'll feed him apples as treats. He weighs around 1,400 pounds, about 500 pounds more than he weighed in December.

"You want to build up the muscle to make him more muscular and still have lots of fat," Ryan said.

Throughout the process, all participants must create record books with evidence that they have properly raised the animal. The books consist of all interactions with the animal, all expenses, the amount of food the animal has received and a complete record of medications the animal took. Ryan added goals to her book, which included making sure Prince is the proper weight and training him to be calm during the show.

Record books were due to out-of-state judges by July 27.

"They have to have a week to read those because there are so many and they are so in-depth," Crawford said. "It's a very extensive record-keeping system. It is so much work."

The competitionRyan will bring Prince to the fairgrounds today for an official weigh-in and an ultrasound. Steers aren't the only animals being shown at the La Plata County Fair - goats, sheep, pigs and many others will also be judged.

Prince will remain in a pen until Friday when the contest begins. The competition is broken into two shows. The first show judges the animal itself based on its health and the meat quality.

The second show involves the participants and how they exhibit the animal. Ryan will lead Prince through a series of patterns, while judges pay particular attention to how the participant interacts with the animal and how it follows instructions. The judges will also ask Ryan questions about training regimen, diet or the meat industry.

The event is held in the grandstands at the La Plata County Fairgrounds in front of a sellout crowd.

"I'm both nervous and excited," Ryan said.

Ryan Jack, 11, and her steer, Prince. Ryan hopes Prince fetches a hefty price at Saturday's livestock auction at the La Plata County Fair. She plans to save the money for college and a car.
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

There are about 25 other participants competing with Ryan. The judges will award the top six contestants ribbons. However, the show uses a Dutch scoring system, meaning that if a participant meets all requirements, they will receive a blue ribbon.

"The main goal is to get a blue ribbon so that your animal is good enough to sell on Saturday," Crawford said.

The auctionAn auction for all animals that receive a blue ribbon will be held Saturday. If Ryan receives a blue ribbon, she could collect between $1,200 and $6,000, depending on the interest from buyers. The better Prince does in the competition, the more money she is likely to fetch at auction.

She hopes multiple buyers will show interest and create a bidding war over the steer. If Prince is sold, Ryan already has plans for the money.

"I'm saving it for college and a car," Ryan said.

Ryan Jack, 11, with her parents, Dani and Mathew Jack, at a friend's ranch. Ryan will show her steer, Prince, this week at the La Plata County Fair.
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Ryan's mother, Dani Jack, is glad her daughter enrolled in the 4-H program.

"I'm not from the world of it, but I really like the responsibility piece, and it teaches the students how to be confident, how to present, how to have those hard conversations with other people," she said. "It really helps build future contributing adults."

Ryan said the experience has taught her a lot about steers and has helped her gain confidence for next year. It has also increased her enthusiasm and determination to become a veterinarian when she's older.

"I've learned to keep doing what you want to do, even though it's hard," Ryan said. "There's days where I don't want to do it, but someone's depending on me."

La Plata County Fair schedule

The 2018 La Plata County Fair will be held today through Sunday at La Plata County Fairgrounds, 2500 Main Ave. For more information, call 382-6465.


4 p.m.: La Plata County 4-H sheep show; all classes judging for open class sheep show, swine showmanship.

6:30 p.m.: True West Rodeo.

7 p.m.: Livestock sale verification sheep cards due.


8:30 a.m.: Judging for 4-H/Future Farmers of America breeding swine, market swine, 4-H/FFA open class swine, AU classes.

9 a.m.: Exhibits open to the public; judging for open class home economics, horticulture, floriculture, creative arts; judging for 4-H/FFA open class fleeces; judging for 4-H poultry open class.

1 p.m.: Judging for 4-H/FFA Goat Show all classes, open class goat.

5 p.m.: Fair royalty speeches, modeling.

Noon: Draft horse events.

7 p.m.: Livestock sale verification swine, goat cards due.


9 a.m.: Exhibits open to the public; judging for 4-H/FFA rabbits.

10 a.m.: 4-H/FFA breeding beef, beef showmanship.

1 p.m.: 4-H/FFA market beef, grand champion/reserve grand champion market beef, champion selection.

2 p.m.: Dairy cattle, all classes.

4 p.m.: 4-H/FFA livestock round robin, all-around showmanship.

4:15 p.m.: Pee-wee showmanship.

7 p.m.: Talent contest; livestock sale verification beef cards due.

8 p.m.: Sundance Head concert.


9 a.m.: Exhibits open to the public; judging for open class beef all classes; 4-H Dog Show.

10 a.m.: Rooster-crowing contest; FFA showmanship.

11 a.m.: Open class dairy cattle all classes.

Noon: Demolition Derby; 4-H marketplace with 4-H youth products for sale; community 4-H barbecue.

2 p.m.: Rabbit costume contest; poultry costume contest.

5 p.m.: Silver Steak, Silver Loin, Silver Chop awards presentations.

5:45 p.m.: Fair royalty crowning.

6 p.m.: Junior livestock sale.

9 p.m.: Fair family dance.


8:30 a.m.: Cowboy Church in the pavilion.

9 a.m.: Exhibits open to the public.

10 a.m.: Carcass animals loaded.

1:30 p.m.: 4-H/FFA 'Catch-It' contest.

2 p.m.: Payment of premiums; exhibits released in all departments; booths taken down; poultry and rabbit exhibits released; animals released.