GUNNISON, Colo. – When Jackson Irby reflects on his youth, he points to the lessons he gained while showing exhibits at the annual Cattlemen’s Days celebration.
He learned through leathering projects and cake decorating before he started showing pigs, steers and other livestock. He got involved with the Catch A Calf program at the National Western, which opened the door for him to make a trip to Wyoming with Dr. Tim Holt to check on some calves a ranch owner was donating to Gunnison.
“We drew blood from them that day to make sure they were gong to be good for the altitude they were going to,” said Irby, the fifth generation of his family to be involved in showing. “That was really good for a 4H kid to get to know all that.”
The sixth generation of his family has taken over the showing reins with daughters Teara-Rose, 16, and Jayden, 15. They will be involved in this year’s Cattlemen’s Days, set for Friday, July 8-Saturday, July 16, at Fred Field Western Center in Gunnison.
“This year, Teara has a market steer, two market goats and a breeding goat,” Irby said. “Jayden will show a market steer, two market pigs and a breeding heifer. This is her second year with the heifer, so she’s got a calf this year. She’s planning to turn the calf into her market project next year.
“She’s going to have that calf from the day it’s born until the day she loads it on the truck. In a normal year, kids don’t get their steers until October, so she’s going to have a real bond with that calf by the time she shows it next year.”
It’s all part of the process for many youngsters in Gunnison County. They work all year to prepare their exhibits for Cattlemen’s Days. Like he experienced a couple of decades ago, Irby’s daughters are learning life’s lessons on a daily basis.
“They get to see the process of life,” he said. “They understand where that animal came from. They understand the work they have to put in to make that animal your friend, to be able to work with that animal and allow that animal to show better when it comes time to show it.”
It’s something they’ve been doing for years, so it’s a natural experience for the Irby girls and many others who are involved in 4H and showing their exhibits. Every step of the way is an educational experience, whether it’s feeding the animals before they eat or just getting the right diet for the animals.
They have an advantage with their father, who shares his own experiences with his daughters. Because he was in their shoes years earlier, Irby has been able to teach them from a young age. Now, his children are passing that on to others, even as teenagers.
“The girls do a lot more off-the-site activities to show some of the other kids that don’t know more of an idea of how to do it and how to help them,” Irby said. “It also helps them get out in the community a little bit more, and it shows anyone that food doesn’t just come from the grocery store.”