The 4H Life: Royce Cook
"Be prepared to put a lot of time into it," is the advice10-year old Royce Cook of Runnels County 4H gives anyone interested in showing livestock at jackpots or livestock shows around the state.
Cook is in only his 2nd year of showing sheep and goats at majors. Those are the big livestock shows around the state, such as the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, etc. He's been showing at the smaller "jackpots" around the state since he was 7-yers old.
It's the major events where the young man is already making an impact showing his sheep and goats. Last year was his first year entering the majors. He quickly served notice that he was a rising star by bringing home the Reserve Champion, Jr. Market Lamb - Finewool, banner from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. This year he brought home the Champion banner from San Antonio for the Jr. Market Lamb Show Finewool.
Cook participates in several areas of 4-H in addition to showing his sheep and goats, including the Skillathon, Livestock judging and Wildlife Club. The youngster answers questions only after thoughtfully considering his reply for several seconds. When it comes to his favorite part of 4-H, his reply is quick; "Showing."
Showing animals requires a lot of hard work and Royce wants you to understand that. Asked what a typical weekday is like, he thinks for a while before answering, "I get up at 6 a.m. I go and feed the animals then come back in and eat breakfast. After that, I go to school. When I come home in the afternoon, I check the animals. I clean out the barn, work the sheep and rake the pens." Mom, Paige Cook, says that Royce puts in more than a little bit of time, "He works the animals about 2 hours every afternoon and evening." On the weekend he spends about 4-5 hours working with the sheep and goats. Cook doesn't have just 1 or 2 animals to work with, he'll have up to 11 or 12 sheep to work with. When not in the show arena, Royce plays baseball.
The barn on the Cook's farm has a treadmill for the sheep. The treadmill contraption, engineered by dad, Cody Cook, is used to keep the sheep in shape. Royce was asked what he thinks the most important physical characteristic is in a good show animal, "Muscle. A lot of muscle." That's where the treadmill helps.
Paige points out one of the most challenging aspects of working with several animals, "All of the animals have different attitudes." Royce says that the sheep this year were different than last year, "This year the sheep were a lot crazier."
Royce starts out teaching the sheep and goats "to walk with a halter." Cody says that is one of the hardest parts of showing sheep, "Teaching them to walk the correct speed without the halter is important. He spends a lot of time teaching to walk on halter and without the halter."
Nutrition is also important, with their diets strictly controlled by Royce and his parents. "We start out on Jacoby Red Tag. When it gets close to the majors, we switch to Jacoby Pink Tag. Then, we'll switch to Purina," Royce says as he discusses the nutrition.
Royce said that in the show ring he can sometimes see how much work other kids have put into their animals, "You can tell if they haven't work with their sheep a lot because the sheep will be jumping around." He also understands that animals don't always cooperate, "Sometimes, if their sheep are jumping around, it's just because they're having a bad day. That's happened to me."
Paige and Royce are on the same channel when it comes to working with the animals, as she points out, "When you aren't out there working, someone else is." Royce finishes the thought for mom, "And he's going to be the one that beats you."
When it comes to sheep and goats, Royce says that he finds working with sheep to be easier, "The sheep are smaller, right there on my level. The goats are larger so it can be hard." He's also aware of the reality of the livestock shows, "If I win or get 2nd place, I'll put the sheep in the holding pen. If we didn't place in the top, he's going on someone's plate." He's also tasted lamb, "It's pretty good."
It would be difficult to overstate the amount of work that Royce puts into raising show sheep and goats. Even with mom and dad's help, along with two younger brothers, raising a show animal requires dedication and discipline. During the February blizzard, Royce didn't slow down, "We had to break ice twice a day. It was really harder than usual. Then, we'd go to my grandparent's to help them. After that, we'd come back here and work."
With all of his awards from the jackpots and majors, Royce still has another 9 years to show as part of 4H. It's obvious, from the trophies, banners, buckles and ribbons on display in the family living room, that he's going to be a force to be reckoned with for the next decade.
It's no small achievement to place in the top in any livestock show, particularly a major such as Houston or San Antonio. Royce is going to improve every year and that means that the competition has to improve if they want to keep up with him as he blazes his way through the livestock show circuit.