Grand Valley teen shows steers at National Western Stock Show
On any given night in the past week — and in the past month, really — after the sun had set and the night was cold and dark, the corrugated metal barn behind Kyler Frye’s home on L Road glowed golden bright.
Inside the barn was tidy and clean. Country music blared loud from a radio in the far corner. Everything was in its place, including a 950-pound, 11-month-old steer in a sturdy blocking chute. A rope tied to a harness around its head held it in place while Kyler worked.
He combed and combed and combed, training the wiry hair all over the steer’s body to fall in one tidy direction. He trimmed a little here and a little there, leveling the hair across the steer’s back, grooming the hair on its flanks to make them look bigger, shaving its head and face.
The steer responded with bovine complacency and by doing its business on the concrete floor, which Kyler scooped with a shovel into a nearby barrel.
The National Western Stock Show was coming up. At 9 a.m. Saturday, and for the last time in his 4-H and Future Farmers of America career as a junior exhibitor, Kyler, 18, showed two steers at one of the biggest, most important stock shows in America.
He’ll graduate Fruita Monument High School in May, so for the last time, while his time is still largely his own, before college and the career in agriculture that he’s chosen, Kyler spent those hours in the barn every night, combing and washing and grooming his steers.
“This is something he’s always loved to do,” said his mom, Mickie Rogers. “He’s fourth-generation farming and ranching, and it’s what he’s chosen to do with his life.”
These days, it’s something of an unconventional choice. Not agriculture — “I have a lot of kids going into the agricultural area,” said Ryan Hudson, Kyler’s FFA advisor — but farming and ranching, specifically the land that generations before him have worked.
“I don’t have a lot of kids going back to the family farm,” Hudson said, but indirectly, that’s what Kyler plans to do.
After studying agriculture business at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, he plans to farm with his stepfather’s family near Alamosa — 1,000 acres of mostly hay and 10,000 head of sheep, which he’s helped work for the past several summers.
“I just…,” he said, and paused to consider. “Like it.”
He is not someone to talk and talk for no reason. He measures his words and smiles, then heads across the mud and dirt on one of the endless chores that arise on a ranch.
Ever since he was 7, when he and his mom returned to the Grand Valley after his father died, he’s been involved in agriculture.
His neighbors, several acres away behind the family farm on L Road, have a pumpkin patch, and as a 7-year-old he began to help out there and on their sod farm.
He helped his uncle, who ranches the 15 acres behind Mickie’s three, and he joined 4-H.
Into his teens, he worked at the Western Slope Cattlemen’s Livestock Auction, herding cattle into chutes.
“He’s always been comfortable around cattle,” Mickie said. “I think he just understands them.”
So, before he was even a teenager, he began raising his own — learning from his uncle and his mother, who showed at the fair when she was younger, doing his own research, gaining experience through trial and error.
BREEDING OWN HERD
He began breeding his own little herd, showing at the Mesa County Fair and selling his steers to further fund his ranching.
He first showed at the National Western Stock Show in 2011, applying for the lottery drawing and getting lucky enough to be one of the exhibitors on the show floor. This year was his second time at the event, participating in the Prospect Steer Show.
“The prospect steers are animals that have a future that is going to be good,” Hudson explained.
“And so the theory is that these steers aren’t quite ready yet, they’re not quite finished, but it doesn’t mean there’s any less work in them. It gives kids the opportunity to see what judges are thinking.”
Because the National Western Stock Show draws exhibitors from around the country, there were animals in the Prospect Steer Show that cost tens of thousands of dollars, Kyler said.
There were steers with impeccable — and expensive — lineage, so Kyler went into the show knowing that his steers are good, but they were up against the best in the country.
“I’m doing it more for the experience,” he said, adding that learning at the National Western Stock Show makes him a better competitor at the Mesa County Fair.
Understanding experience as the reward helps soften the reality that raising cattle, especially cattle for show, is expensive.
His black and white steer, who he wouldn’t name but that his little sister calls Panda, cost $2,900.
LOOKS FOR GOOD STOCK
He bought it last January from Pueblo, after having read about it on the Internet and studying its lineage. It was bred from a bull named Monopoly “who’s just really good stock,” Kyler explained.
Plus, there’s the feed — Kyler mixes his own special blend — and the supplies to get steers ready to show.
In just the past month, Kyler went through 18 cans of Sullivan’s Revive, a skin and hair conditioner for cattle, to the tune of $200 a case.
And he’s brushed and groomed and trimmed his black and white steer and a 10-month-old blond steer who’s a more modestly sized 800 pounds.
“If they get poop on ‘em then they lose their hair, so you have to clean and groom them every day leading up to showing them,” Kyler said.
Because showing his steers is less about the honor and glory than about the experience, it speaks to something deeper and more fundamental.
A healthy steer, one with thick flanks and an even stride, with a healthy coat and a reasonable disposition, is one that will see a family through.
A healthy steer means a freezer full of meat, and Kyler is very pragmatic about that.
His great-grandfather came to the Grand Valley from Germany and began farming on L Road, followed by his grandfather, Avery Kohls.
Over the years, the farm has seemed to shrink as civilization encroached. Five or six years ago, a sub-development grew across the road on acres of what used to be hay.
Then there’s the reality that hay is $10 a bale right now. And ranching implements are expensive. And cattle require a lot of land.
The family farm these days promises a challenging life, so teenagers funneling into agriculture careers often look at greenhouse management or genetics or agribusiness.
“But I think ultimately that benefits the family farm,” Hudson said.
And then there are kids like Kyler, choosing the family farm. He showed at the National Western Stock Show Saturday morning with two steers he’d raised and groomed, knowing they represented a lot of hours, a lot of cold nights in the barn with country music playing, a lot of shampooing and fluffing and trimming. Knowing they represented his future.