Showing the grand champion steer at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is the dream of many 4-H and FFA members. For Caitlen Doskocil of Holland, Texas, it was also a lifelong goal.
But this past March, when the Houston steer judge slapped her calf Peaches on the rump, signaling that he'd won the show, Caitlen was not thinking about her dreams and goals — she was focused on holding onto Peaches, who tried to bolt when the huge stadium erupted in cheers.
Even during the trophy and banner pre-sentations, the 17-year-old admits she was in a daze. It wasn't until Caitlen and her parents, Doyle and Kara Doskocil, returned to the barn that reality hit — her 1,379-pound, composite-breed steer had beaten 15 other breed champions to be named Grand Champion Junior Market Steer at the 2015 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
"That's when we all cried," Caitlen recalls.
The momentous win was the grand finale to Caitlen's 10 years of raising and showing calves, and her winnings from the Houston show will help pay for her college education. At auction, Peaches sold for a whopping $300,000. Caitlen, who aspires to become a dentist, will use her $75,000 portion of the proceeds to fund her studies in biomedical science at Texas A&M University, beginning this fall. The remaining $225,000 went into a rodeo scholarship fund.
"Caitlen's always been very focused on her cattle and getting into Texas A&M," says her mother, Kara, a fourth-grade teacher at Holland Elementary School. "She even gave up playing varsity volleyball her senior year so she'd have enough time for her calves. But she also kept up her grades at the same time. She's a National Honor Society student who's in the top 10 percent of her senior class."
Determined to Succeed
Caitlen's interest in cattle started when she was a little girl, tagging along with her father on the family's farm and ranch. Known as D&D Farms Show Cattle, the operation — financed in part by Lone Star Ag Credit in Temple — consists of 3,500 acres of row crops, 1,500 acres of grasslands and 250 commercial cows.
At age 7, Caitlen helped her older brothers tend their FFA calves. Clayton, now 27, is a project manager with a major construction company. Cory, 25, farms with his grand-father, Wayne Doskocil.
"I liked to play with their calves," Caitlen says. "I was used to my dad's wild cows in the pastures, and those calves let me pet them. My brothers weren't very interested in raising them. So I started setting them up with a stick and leading them around."
By the next year, Caitlen was old enough to join the Milam County 4-H program and have her own calf.
"When Caitlen decides to do something, she won't quit. Ever."
– Doyle Doskocil
"He was a Charolais that we bought, and we won first place at the Bell County Youth Fair and Livestock Show," she says. "His name was Champion. At auction, I cried and begged Dad to let me keep him. But that didn't happen."
Doyle knew his daughter would have to toughen up if she was to continue showing. And she did. Mentored by both her dad and her older cousins Megan and Jenna Bland, Caitlen kept taking calves to livestock shows and winning. Her countless ribbons, banners and plaques fill a guest room in the Doskocil home.
"Since I started showing, I've raised at least 60 calves," she estimates. "Of those, I bet I've shown 50."
Raising Show Calves
Many of Caitlen's calves were born on the Doskocil farm. Others were purchased from breeders who specialize in producing show cattle. Several years ago, Doyle started a club calf business himself, raising calves for both his daughter and customers.
"We flush embryos from three to four of our best cows, so we can get more calves from them," Doyle says. "It's interesting work, and I enjoy it."
In years past, youngsters raised calves that came from their family farm or a friend's herd. But nowadays, many 4-H and FFA members buy animals genetically bred for the show ring. This past year, the Doskocils purchased 11 of the 13 calves that Caitlen raised. Of those, she took 10 to shows.
Because it was her last year to show, the family paid top dollar for Peaches, a tawny-colored calf sold by Bobby and Mandi Maddox, owners of Bonham Show Cattle in Hempstead, Texas. The Maddoxes also advised Caitlen on feed selection and fitting techniques.
But a pricey calf and expert advice don't guarantee a trophy.
"We can sell the best calf ever, but if the work is not done at home, then the animal won't be successful at a show," Mandi says. "A good showman has to put in long hours, effort and energy in order to be successful on a consistent basis. Caitlen did, so she was successful, even with cattle that she didn't buy from us."
Hard work pays off
The to-do list is long when it comes to caring for a show calf. He must be tamed and halter broken at a young age, fed twice daily, walked regularly, and fitted, or groomed, with specialized products.
"After school, I washed Peaches every day," Caitlen says. "It took two hours to blow-dry him."
Along the way, she competed in prospect shows for steers weighing less than 1,000 pounds and progress shows for steers weighing 1,000 pounds or more to give her calves experience in the ring. What's more, this year Caitlen competed at five major Texas livestock shows — in Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and Houston — as well as at shows in Odessa and San Angelo.
Marshall Miles, her agricultural sciences teacher and FFA advisor at Holland High School, has known Caitlen — a Star FFA Farmer and Texas FFA Star Farmer recipient — for three years.
"She's the kind of student that an ag teacher is lucky to have," Miles says. "Whenever she'd win at shows, people would call and congratulate me, but I told them that she did it all on her own. She and her father understand how to raise and feed steers in order to be successful."
Doyle prefers to give all the credit to his daughter.
"Whenever Caitlen decides to do something," he says, "she won't quit. Ever." – Sheryl Smith-Rodgers
Selecting the Right Club Calf
Keep three basic characteristics in mind when evaluating a calf, Doyle Doskocil advises.
The feet of a structurally correct calf will face forward. He will walk smoothly, and his back feet will step into the tracks of his front feet.
An ideal show calf should look good physically and have a smooth shoulder and a big belly.
His muscles should be visible when he walks.