MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Thursday, March 19th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Last week the City of Houston shut down the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and I think you know why, coronavirus.
In a typical year, the event can draw two-and-a-half million visitors. In 2019, it generated $391 million in economic activity for the city.
BASHAM: The rodeo typically features Texas students who showcase, sell, or auction livestock they’ve raised for the last year. Canceling the show meant rounding up and sending home thousands of students and animals.
What investment have they lost? Anywhere from $700 per chicken to $6,000 per steer.
EICHER: WORLD correspondent Bonnie Pritchett spoke to those affected by the cancellation and a couple buckin’ to make things right.
BONNIE PRITCHETT, REPORTER: Brooke McCrumb is a sophomore and Future Farmers of America member at Dickinson High School near Houston, Texas. Over the last nine months, she’s raised two sheep and a white Charolais steer that looks almost as broad as he is tall.
MCCRUMB: It takes 30 minutes to work them and exercise them. Another 30 minutes to work them in the area, and another 30 minutes to bathe them. And another 30 minutes to feed them and make sure, and then you have to clean their pens and clean all around. It’s just a very lengthy process…
For thousands of Texas youth like McCrumb, months of hard work and financial commitment culminate at livestock shows. The world’s largest happens here every year: The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
According to McCrumb, there’s nothing like it.
MCCRUMB: This would have been my sixth year to go to Houston…It’s a very big deal…It means a lot if you place. And it also means a lot even if you just go…
Livestock shows let students showcase their work and provide a means of recouping some of the money invested in their animals. Some will make it to auction where students can earn more than they spent. Animals that don’t make it to auction will go to market and students will get a check for the fair market value.
That check won’t recoup all their investment. But it can off-set the cost for the next livestock project or be put aside for college.
Fifteen of McCrumb’s classmates were also prepared to show and sell their livestock. Last week 2,000 students traveled from across Texas to bring their heifers to the show.
NEWS ANCHOR: And plenty of reaction tonight from the mayor’s decision to cancel the rodeo today to try and contain the spread of the virus. The first time that’s happened in 83 years. We have…
Aaron Whitener is the Dickinson High School FFA adviser. From his office—with its light dusting of dirt and heavy aroma from the adjacent barn—he recounts their experience.
WHITNER: We actually left the barn at 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning to, with, nine heifers. And we drove up to the staging light to wait in line to be checked in at the rodeo. And we’re all in line with all these other hundreds of trailers, you know, waiting to check in and that’s when word started trickling down that the rodeo was going to be closed…There was people that came down from Lubbock that had to turn around and leave and go home…
AUDIO: [PEN GATE, BLEETS]
The steer show was scheduled for this week. Between 2,000 and 2,500 students like Brooke McCrumb didn’t get to show their livestock. No show, no auction, no sale.
So McCrumb’s broad, stocky, 1,100-pound steer remains at the ag barn with her two sheep. It looks like her parents’ might not recoup their $5,000 investment.
NEWS ANCHOR: Students in the Brazos Valley who were not able to show their animals at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo now get a second chance
But not all is lost. When the Houston Rodeo closed, hearts—and wallets—opened.
REPORTER: That’s right Crystal. Students have been putting in hard work to compete….
Brian and Caroline Rogers own BCR Ventures in Bryan, Texas, about 100 miles northwest of Houston. They raise and sell Red Angus and Angus show cattle. Their primary customers are youth who, like Whitener’s students, were in line to check into the rodeo when it shut down.
CAROLINE ROGERS: And Brian and I were on the phone and he kind of jokingly said, ‘Hey! Let’s have a show at BCR tomorrow’ It would give them one more chance to walk through the ring. We had nothing, we have nothing extravagant, as far as any kind of show facilities. But we’re like, oh, we can make it work. We’ll do something for the kids…
The Rogers made a few phone calls. And then, like a stampede, the idea took off. A flier was circulated at the rodeo as participants packed up. Twenty thousand Facebook users shared the event. Donations poured in: generators, lights, dumpsters, portable toilets, cash, and other material prizes. About 100 volunteers stepped up.
Twenty hours after the Houston rodeo closed, the Rogers’ livestock show opened—with 450 entries. All of them students with breeding heifers turned away from the rodeo the day before.
Fifteen hundred family members and friends attended the nine-and-a-half-hour event. The Rogers said each participant will receive a portion of the $40,000 in donated cash and prizes.
BRIAN ROGERS: We had so many families here that they had no clue who we were…And they would throughout the day come and find us and, you know, come and hug us, cry. You know, it was just over-the-top amazing to me…
More impromptu livestock shows are popping up across Texas.
There’s one more chance for Brooke McCrumb and her fellow students to show and sell their animals. The Galveston County Livestock Show and Rodeo is scheduled for April 11. But, if it’s canceled, McCrumb may be stuck with an 11-hundred-pound side of beef.
MCCRUMB: I don’t think I could ever eat my own animals! So (laughs) I don’t know where they would go from there…His only real value right now is to be eaten. Or to have as a pet. And not a lot of people want steers as pets…
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett in Houston.