Nearly 150 steers and heifers from more than 20 feedyards participated in Beef Empire Days’ Rely on Revalor Live Show Tuesday morning, an event that crowned cattle from Sunbelt Feedyard and Finney County Feedyard with its top honors.
The steers and heifers ran in and out of pins at the Finney County Fairgrounds in front of over 100 onlookers. Chris Mullinix, a livestock judging team coach and faculty member at Kansas State University’s Department of Animal Sciences, judged the show for his second year and said he was happy to come back because of Beef Empire Days’ history and legacy.
The event’s 50th anniversary made this year’s show special, Mullinix said. He said Beef Empire Days coordinators gave him a list of esteemed past judges, including industry pioneer and the event’s first live show judge, Don Good, who once held Mullinix’s position at KSU.
“The history of this event is something anyone across the state that’s involved with the beef cattle industry understands, and when they called and asked if I’d be interested in judging, it was a no-brainer…” Mullinix said. “When you talk about a who’s who in the world of livestock evaluators, it’s just pretty humbling to know that you’ve been asked to be part of that fraternity, so to speak.”
Mullinix spoke to the crowd before naming the winners of the heifer and steer competitions, discussing his excitement for the event and his style of judging. He said the live show was about more than selecting the cow that would make the best carcass. It could also honor the production side of the beef industry and what may make up the most profitable animal, and it could help consumers understand where their meat comes from.
“For me personally, the beauty of your live show is the opportunity to look at some other traits that still have economic importance to the beef cattle industry. And I hope at the end of the day, when we select our top steers, our top heifers, I hope every sector of the cattle business can look at those cattle and say ‘Hey, I think those cattle can work for me,’” Mullinix told the crowd.
Mullinix named the top 25 of the 54 competing heifers, an honor earned by 11 feedyards. Heifers from Triangle H, NextGen Cattle Feeding, Brookover Feedyard and Sunbelt Feedyard earned the top five spots, with Sunbelt Feedyard’s tag 133 named champion and Brookover’s 343 reserve champion. Mullinix cited the winning 1,336-pound heifer’s smoothness, shape and muscle, and said she was attractive and nicely structured.
Jason Rios, a location manager at Sunbelt Feedyard who helped select the winning heifer, said he felt excited and privileged about the show’s outcome. He said he paid attention to the finish and balance of the cattle he selected, but that there was also a fair bit of gut instinct involved.
“I can’t explain it. It’s just something you see. You’ll know it when you see it,” Rios said.
Nine feedyards walked away with steers in Mullinix’s top 25 for the category. Dodge City Feeder’s tag 109 was named reserve champion and a Lane County Feeders steer won fourth place. Finney County Feedyard provided not only the champion steer, tagged 177, but also two more steers in the top five and eight in the top 25.
Finney County Feedyard manager and owner Jeff George said his feedyard employees and cattle selection crew had done excellent work, but that the breeding and genetic consideration of the cattle helped the feedyard perform so well. The feedyard’s owner, Derek Sawyer, said he was glad Mullinix had appreciated and agreed with the design of cattle he and his staff had bred. They were both grateful for the success the yard had at the show.
“Obviously, we’re tickled pink,” George said.
Crowd members were invested during both sections of the live show. Onlookers watched as Mullinix sorted cattle into different pins, marking their lists of competitors accordingly. When the announcer called an animal's tag number from a different page, papers crinkled as viewers flipped through their packets in unison.
During the steer live show, the audience was able to put their knowledge to the test with the Public Pick 5 show. Participating in men’s, women’s and youth categories, the public was able to select the cattle they believed would ultimately score highest on the Beef Empire Days index during Friday’s carcass show. When the results are in, adult winners will split a $500 prize and the youth winner will win a duffle bag.
Twenty-two community members competed in the adult categories, including Triangle H’s Kathy Weatherred and Tyson’s Brandon Ford. For both of them, the public judging was made scientific and technical.
Weatherred said she paid attention to Mullinix’s reactions, how the cattle carried themselves and the placement of their muscle. She said she had won the Public Pick 5 before with some help, and was interested to see how she would fare on her own.
Ford said his participation was a joke between he and his manager, who pushed him to submit his guesses. Ford said he weighted Mullinix’s decisions against his own, paying attention to the steers’ finish and muscling over sheer size.
Twelve-year-old Jacob Hager was the lone competitor in the youth category. Hager said he had little experience working with cattle, but had often went to work with his dad at Triangle H.
“Mostly I just looked at them and they kind of just looked right,” Hager said. “And they had a whole bunch of meat on their shoulders and their butt. And usually their backs are not completely straight but just a little bit curved … Usually I just see the ones, and they look like the fattest that (my dad) chooses, so I base it off that.”
The morning crowd was not a huge group but was very engaged. People sat with their children or partners or coworkers. Some came to watch their feedyard compete, others just came to watch the industry at work. How much people cared about the event, particularly those who made it possible, stuck out to Mullinix.
“You don’t do this for 50 years without a group of volunteers that believes in it and puts their heart into it. And you can tell with these guys,” Mullinix said. “This event is special to them, their families and they do it in first class fashion.”