When my daughters, ages 6 and 5, asked if we could enter some of our chickens in the Fort Worth Stock Show, I’ll admit, I was pretty excited — perhaps even more than they were.
The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo is, in all honesty, among my most favorite things about living here.
One day spent on the stock show grounds perfectly illustrates how the city’s boast — that Fort Worth is where the West begins — is more than just a tagline.
I remember walking the long, bustling aisles of the cattle barn my first year here, dodging cowpies and staring in awe at the half-ton creatures being led around by the tiny boot-clad children who had raised them.
Cowboys, I thought at the time, were an anachronism, vestiges of a profession that no longer existed.
Then, during the rodeo, I watched one rope and wrestle a calf to the ground with precision yet remarkable care, as if that calf’s well-being was somehow intertwined with his own.
I learned that what passes as novelty and entertainment for many of us is all in a day’s work for others.
As a former East Coast urbanite, my first stock show experience was a realization of just how out of my element I was living in Fort Worth.
But it also impressed upon me the importance of the agricultural industry to life in Texas and the reality of the hard-working people — farmers and ranchers and cowboys — who are behind it. Did you know that 98 percent of farms in Texas are family-owned?
Even the stock show exhibitors who don’t own or operate farms, those who raise livestock on the side or who participate in 4-H clubs because they know the value of animal husbandry, all seem to have a relationship with the land and the animals that simply cannot be developed any other way.
In that sense, it felt odd to enter our “city” hens into the stock show poultry competition.
Raising our small backyard flock has been a diverting hobby for me and a (sometimes useful) opportunity to teach our kids about responsibility, sustainability and the challenges and delights of producing our own food (the eggs, not the chickens).
But we aren’t farm people. We aren’t even aspiring farm people.
Most of my chicken expertise has come from reading the blogs of other urban chicken owners and asking friends — actual farmers — series after series of inane questions.
So, I feared that we would be obviously green and wholly out of place.
And like any parent, I worried that my kids would be disappointed when our motley crew of backyard, much beloved as they are, chickens didn’t earn a ribbon.
Thankfully, my fears were unfounded — not because we knew what we were doing, but because everyone was eager to help us figure it out.
From finding our chickens’ cages to coaching our daughter on what she should expect to be asked during the showmanship portion of the competition, everyone we encountered answered our questions with a generous spirit and an enthusiasm to show and tell us everything they knew about poultry.
The experience was so wholly delightful that it was easy to forget that it was, indeed, a competition.
Quite surprisingly, that part of the stock show worked out for us as well. Our chickens came away with two ribbons. What for, exactly, I’m sure I cannot explain.
But that seemed to matter less to my daughters than I expected.
They were just excited to tell people all about their chickens. They have asked us incessantly ever since, exactly when will we move to the country?
Maybe we will aspire to be farm people, after all.