Memories of the KBR 4-H Calf Show and Sale in Bassett, Nebraska
When I was growing up, the KBR 4-H Feeder Calf Show and Sale was always held in Bassett, Nebraska, on the second Friday of October. "KBR" was an abbreviation for "Keya Paha - Brown - Rock", three counties in northern Nebraska served by a single County Extension office.
The "stocker-feeders" we exhibited were spring calves. By October, the calves typically weighed 300 to 450 lbs. After the show, they were sold at auction. Most of the buyers were farmers from the Corn Belt whose kids were in 4-H or FHA. As "Baby Beef" projects, the calves gained another 400 to 600 pounds and were exhibited at county and state fairs, Ak-Sar-Ben, the Chicago Livestock Exposition, and other cattle shows, before becoming beefsteak.
I would love to go back in time and enjoy the spectacle of the KBR 4-H calf show again. On show day, every parking place around the salebarn was occupied, and even the road ditches were full of pickups and stock trailers.
Inside the showbarn, each 4-H club had its own area with a sign overhead to identify it. (Our club was the "Rose Scouts".) Most of the 4-Her's were dressed in their western best -- white shirts, blue jeans, and cowboy boots.
A hundred or more calves were tied and made comfortable in beds of straw along both sides of several long dividers . Most of the calves were Black Angus and Herefords, but there were also a few Shorthorns, Red Angus, and Galloways. Very few cross-breeds were shown, until the late 1960's when some ranchers began to use Charolais bulls.
Many of the families had a "show box"--a wooden chest to store all the brushes, hair products, clippers, etc., for grooming their calves. Often, the ranch name and cattle brand was painted on the box. The boxes were placed along the walkway behind the calves to keep the straw in place and to serve as handy seats.
A few kids might shampoo their calves when they arrived at the barn on show day, but the calves who came from our ranch had been brushed daily for a couple months and washed several times in the previous week. My dad had made our calves look even better by smoothing out any rough spots and shaggy hairs with the hair clippers.
As show time approached, everyone brushed their calves so they would look their best. A bit of hair conditioner might be applied, or some hair spray. The hooves were painted with shoe polish, and the long tail hairs were combed smooth and gently fluffed.
When our class was announced on the loudspeaker, we led our calves to the arena and paraded them in front of the judge. I remember this as a very nervous time. I hoped my 4-H cap wouldn't slide off. I hoped my calf wouldn't get spooked and try to run away, and if he did, I hoped I'd be able to control him. I hoped the calf would stand squarely when I prodded his feet with my show stick. I hoped when the judge put his hands on my calf, it wouldn't shy away.
The kids in the Rose Scouts 4-H Club were fortunate. Some of the best Hereford and Angus cattle in the area were raised in southern Rock County, and we had the pick of our parents' herds for show calves. My brother, sister, and I had more than our fair share of champion calves, I suppose. My dad's "Diamond Lazy H" brand is visible on the side of the show-winner I'm exhibiting in the photo at left.
Usually, we showed our calves in an outdoor arena, but in two of my ten 4-H years, the second Friday of October brought a snowstorm. The judging had to be held inside the barn with the doors tightly shut. We coped willingly with the cramped quarters, because a Rocky Mountain wind was whistling outside and the snowflakes were flying like a million arrows.
When it snowed on October's second Friday, the calves didn't sell as well. The farmers from Iowa and Eastern Nebraska listened to the weather forecast and stayed home! But when the weather was nice, the top calves at the show usually brought over a dollar a pound -- enough to show a nice profit in the record book that the 4-Her kept for each calf.
As each 4-H member left the sale-ring with his calf, he was handed a silver dollar by one of the sale-barn employees. I don't know who supplied the silver dollars. The last few years that I exhibited, the bank couldn't get bags of silver dollars anymore, so we were given a dollar bill instead -- not exactly a substitute!
I don't think the KBR calf show is held anymore, due to the gradual depopulation of the Sandhills . The 4-H kids probably take their calves to the county fairs instead.
This morning, I looked at the forecast for my old hometown in Nebraska, and a hard freeze is predicted for the next two nights. "Mostly clear. Breezy. Lows in the mid 20s. Northwest winds 15 to 25 mph." Brrrr. But at least, it's not supposed to snow up there tomorrow!