GUNNISON, Colo. – Decades ago, the Cattlemen’s Days celebration was created for ranchers and farmers to gather together, rejoice and compare their labors.
It continues to this day, with the celebration taking place from Friday, July 5-Sunday, July 14, at Fred Field Western Heritage Center in Gunnison.
“Cattlemen’s Days is different than your typical county fair, mainly because it’s not a fair,” said Eric McPhail, the Gunnison County director for the Colorado State University Extension Office. “It’s a place where kids can exhibit their 4H and FFA projects, then Cattlemen’s Days is a rodeo and a rodeo committee, and the two go side-by-side.”
“The Cattlemen’s Days Rodeo dates back with the ranchers, and that all started in 1900. That combination of where you can have 4H and the rodeo have been a win-win for a specific event.”
It makes for something special to hit the Gunnison Valley every July.
“The most important thing about Cattlemen’s Days is that it is time for the celebration, getting the understanding and inspiration that there is a future to agriculture and a future for the rural way of life,” McPhail said. “It’s special here, because there are so many dedicated volunteers that put these events on. Its’ a fun time for everybody.
“It’s one of the best PRCA rodeos in the country and one of the most successful livestock sales for the kids in the state. It’s just very well supported. This is definitely a fun place to be involved.”
He has seen a great deal in the 13 years since he moved to Gunnison from his Texas home. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s in animal nutrition at Texas A&M University, and he’s shared that knowledge with youth across the county. It’s a vital part of the process that means so much to the community.
“Our 4H program has been part of Cattlemen’s Days since the late 1930s, and there’s a history there that all the old-timers are able to get around and support 4H because of it,” he said. “I’d say 4H, in general, is more than just something to do. It teaches the kids skills that they otherwise wouldn’t get.”
It’s more than preparing livestock for show, though that is still a major part of the 4H program.
“It teaches them leadership skills,” McPhail said. “It helps in honing their skills on a certain project, whether it’s baking food or raising a steer or learning about one of the many STEM projects we have, like robotics. Many say the best skills they learned in life came through their 4H program.
“During Cattlemen’s Days, I love the pride these kids have in showing their exhibits. We are blessed that we live in a community that values those skills and values the kids for them.”
The community has a great deal of pride in seeing the youth of today working toward tomorrow. It involves children spending less time on their phones or playing video games and focusing on the tasks at hand. That’s an important part in their development.
“This community wants to keep alive the feeling that hard work pays off,” McPhail said. “It’s hard to live here through the winters, but the people here see these kids working for something. I think that feeling of hard work is something a community can get behind.”