By Rollie Deering
Special to the Pioneer
More than three decades ago Bob Seward encouraged me to write the earliest history of the Yuma County Cattlemen's Association Feedlot Performance Contest. I regret that I dawdled until Bob passed.
Much detail can be forgotten in 40 years. Much more detail can also be remembered.
Any project may be broken into two parts – conception and implementation. For some projects, conception and implementation are combined. An appropriate analogy is the homesteader's "Soddy." The homesteader's family and a few neighbors designed the sod house and did the hard work, simultaneously combining both conception and implementation and making any necessary changes as the house was completed. 1
However, in the case of the YCCA Contest, the conception and implementation phases were separate.
The conception of the contest and a rough outline took less than an hour's time by three friends at a birthday supper. The project was intended to be completed over the winter months. Because of a death, the idea could have been easily forgotten, but was not. The gestation of the conception took 11 months and 24 days before being passed to others for "implementation."
Again, there is an analogy to the building of a modern house. An architect thoughtfully designs a house to be aesthetic and to comply with building codes, while also needing to meet the aspirations of the family who will live there. Like Bill Seward, world famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright also passed away before many of his conceived plans could be implemented. This left Wright's work to be finished by fellow architects led by Vernon B. Swaback. 2 Once finished, Wright's blueprints were passed to craftsmen – carpenters, electricians, masons, and plumbers for "implementation."
In the case of the YCCA Contest, the craftsmen who did the implementation weren't carpenters and plumbers but were cow/calf operators, seed stock producers, feedlot owners, and others who were anxious to know how the newly arrived immigrant European breeds would fit into beef operations. Some but not all of those who did the hard work were: Lynn Adamson, Harlan Baucke, Perry Blach, Tom Blach, Don Brown, Bert Corliss, Allen Davis, Ron Eastin, Steve Lindgren, Dave McCall, Mike Montgomery, Jim Norwood, Jack Shafer, Bob Seward, Russ Seward, J.A. Spiers, Don Starnes, Roger Tuell, Larry Winger, Dick Dedrick, Dick White, and Larry Zion. Forty years later, sons and grandsons of these original YCCA members will continue "implementing" to see that the contest continues to thrive.
Bill Seward (above, far right) showed the first crossbred steer ever named a NWSS Class Champion, Holtorf bred.
Bob and Bill Seward were integral to the concept as it was conceived on October 27, 1975. Georgia Lou Seward had invited my wife, Norma, and me to celebrate Bill's 23rd birthday. While the women were in the kitchen, Bob, Bill, and I remained in the living room visiting about our favorite subject -– beef cattle. Canadian rancher Travers Smith had imported the Simmental bull "Parisian" from France in 1967. Many other European breeds followed Parisian through the Grosse Ile Quarantine Station in Manitoba. By 1970, cuts of beef from crossbred progeny were already appearing on menus world-wide. The Sewards had bred cows to several of these recently arrived breeds.
While cattlemen were excited about the resulting crossbreds, opinions about these unfamiliar breeds varied widely. Those diverse points of view were discussed, some being based on facts while others were founded on innuendo and rumor. Our conversation moved to finding a way for local cattlemen to measure and compare the then standard breeds of Angus, Hereford, Charolais and Shorthorn to the newly arrived genetics to North America—Simmental, Limousin, Pinzgaeur, Maine-Anjou, Belgian Blue, White Park, Braunvieh, Blonde d'Aquitaine, Gelbvieh, Salers, Tarantaise, Piedmontese, Meuse-Rhine-Issel, Chianina, Romagnola, from Europe and Murray Grey from Australia.
that time, Bill's world had always been centered on show cattle. I wasn't surprised, however, when he suggested that a feedlot gain and carcass performance contest would allow local cattlemen to compare their cattle with their neighbors, one breed to others, and one cross with others.
Only 35 days later, on December 1, 1975, Bill died in a Nebraska vehicle accident. Fate can be cruel and unfair. Sometimes it can be brutally tragic. The entire community grieved the loss of a personable young man, a cattle savant who possessed evaluation skills well beyond his age.
Our discussion on Bill's birthday had been brief but also very thought provoking.
The seed, however, had been planted. Bill's concept of the cattle-feeding contest discussed on October 27 needed to be completed. As discussed that night, the contest should be producer centered. It shouldn't be one where calves would be delivered, weighed and marketed with the results being sent by mail. A contest that only rolled the proverbial dice wouldn't do. It needed to be more like Texas holdem poker where the odds may be tipped in the player's favor by knowing the odds of the cards held in his hand. In the case of feeder cattle, these cards include animal health, age, breed combination, conformation, body condition, disposition, and understanding the genetic profiles of both parents.
The contest should be educational but also needed to be fun. Every cattleman loves winning, whether it is saving a newborn calf buried beneath a snowdrift or raising a Grand Champion Steer. And, finally, the contest couldn't award only ribbons and trophies. To drive incentive and interest, winners should deserve and receive substantial monetary rewards.
After several months of tinkering with numbers and consulting with others, a formula for distributing prize money emerged. As proposed, the YCCA would assume all costs of the contest, including feed. After deducting 10 percent of the net profit for YCCA activities and scholarships, the remaining money was to be split 40 percent, 40 percent, 20 percent, with each 40 percent being split on a sliding scale among the top 10 steers in both categories — daily gain and carcass. The remaining 20 percent would be divided 15 percent to the Grand Champion Steer and 5 percent for the Reserve Grand Champion Steer. The same payout method could distribute the proceeds obtained from a Rocky Mountain Oyster Performance Contest Calcutta.
November 27, 1976, only a few days short of a year after Bill's death, the Cattlemen held their 5th Annual Thanksgiving Weekend Club Calf Sale. 3 These sales had been held to promote members' cattle and to also raise funds for the YCCA. Their first goal had succeeded, while fund raising had struggled. A few minutes after the sale, I gave Steve Lindgren, the YCCA president at the time, a brief, verbal, description of Bill's concept of a feedlot performance contest. Steve invited me to present a more detailed blueprint to the YCCA board of directors 4 to be held in the Eckley gymnasium lunch room.
Their reception was positive. The YCCA directors designated Allen Davis to be contest chairman or more accurately, the "implementer-in-chief." Like architect Wright's Swaback, Allen's mission was to fill in any gaps during "conception." He also sought to make the contest fair and honest while providing useful information. He held several meetings to develop policy and protocol. There were times that Allen found conducting the meetings was like herding cats. Eventually, practical cattle knowledge and scientific expertise melted together into a well-designed plan that has withstood the test of time.
During Allen's meetings, some discussion revolved around how long the cattle should remain on feed. Cattle feeders' kill sheets were already showing that some popular European crossbreds, especially Limousin x Hereford crosses, were failing to grade USDA Choice and required more bunk days than British crossbreds. Several adjustments to days on feed and to ration formulation have been needed during the history of the contest.
Somewhat contentious debate occurred about how the carcass contest should be scored. At the time, Forrest McWilliams was the Golden Plains CSU Extension Livestock Specialist. Forrest explained the carcass evaluation scoring method that he developed while working toward a Master's Degree. While Forrest's formulas were fair and accurate, some cattlemen believed that statistics terms such as "standard deviation" were difficult to understand. After the first three contests, the carcass judging method was changed. That method was replaced again in 2000 while Ron Armstrong became president with a formula that uses a combination of carcass value and dressing percent.
The first contest weigh-in was held December 15, 1977, at the Yuma Feedlot two miles northeast of Yuma. The steers were fed for a 135 day feeding period which included a 45 day period to even out fill. Fifty-nine steers were officially weighed for the start of the contest on February 1, 1978.
The Yuma American Legion hosted the first Calcutta March 18, 1978. 5 On Friday night, while the projector screen and banquet tables were being set up, there was an abundance of anxiety about whether the Calcutta would succeed. In fact, an "executive decision" was made that the YCCA would "bid in" any steers selling for less than $50. There was no reason to worry. For that Saturday and for the next 39 Calcutta Saturday nights, no steer of more than 3,500 head has sold for less than $50.
Color transparencies of each steer were projected while the auctioneer chanted. The Legion's numbered bingo balls randomly selected the sale order. Nicki and Pat Davis and other volunteers had attached photos of each steer to plaques made by Steve Lindgren's woodworking class students. The annual version of homemade plaques became a Calcutta auction tradition.
On August 5, 1978, the winners were announced at the YCCA's annual meeting before a crowd of 250 that The Yuma Pioneer described as being tense. A Bill Crews Simmental steer weighing 1411 was named Grand Champion and won $4,221.12. Winger Ranch showed a 1392 pound Simmental for Reserve Champion and won $2,743.73. A Chianina x Angus x Charolais steer from Seward Cattle Company won the Carcass Championship and $1,688.45. In total, $39,060.64 was distributed. 6
The Yuma County Cattlemen's Association began the Bill Seward Memorial Award that first year. Bill's parents, Bob and Georgia Lu, were the first recipients. Bill's friend, Mike Montgomery, presented the award, saying, "If Bill were here today his message would be to all of us, ‘Quit owning cows and start raising real cattle, cattle that are productive and profitable'." A Yuma Pioneer sidebar had this quote, "Allen Davis, YCCA president noted that the Cattlemen's Performance Contest just concluded was based upon the thought and ideas of Bill Seward." 7
Before the YCCA contest came about, the association operated on a yearly budget of several hundred dollars. Conducting the contest fattened the association's bank account considerably, allowing the cattlemen to give funds to the Yuma County Fair Queen, subsidize the Yuma County Cattlewomen's beef promotion activities, set a price floor on the Yuma County Fair 4-H and FFA Livestock Sale, sponsor the Yuma County Pen of Three Contest, and also provided an ability to support other worthwhile projects.
But Yuma County youth have been the big winners. Longtime scholarship chairman, Dean Wingfield's records show that 135 students have received scholarships totaling $232,000over the 40 year history of the Yuma County Cattlemen's Feedlot Performance Contest. 8
Bill Seward would be so pleased.
1. "Life in a Sod House"
2. Frank Lloyd Wright's Unfinished Work, by Vernon B Swaback FAIA, FAICP, Two Worlds Media 2014 Wright has been called ":The World's Greatest Architect." Wright designed 425 buildings during his 63 year career.
3. The Yuma Pioneer, advertisement, November 18, 1976 for 5th Annual Thanksgiving Club Calf Sale.
4. The Yuma Pioneer, advertisement for YCCA Annual Meeting, Board members, Steve Lindgren, Bert Corliss, Tom Blach, Jim Norwood, Roger Herman, Dave McCall, and Roger Tuell, March 19, 1977.
5. The Yuma Pioneer, advertisement, March 9, 1978
6. The Yuma Pioneer, "Simmentals Sweep Cattlemen's Feedlot Performance Show", August 10, 1978.
7. The Yuma Pioneer, "Seward Honored by County Cattlemen," August 10, 1978.
Thanks to everyone who contributed their knowledge and expertise to the writing of this history:
The entire Seward family, Norma Deering, Dianne Harper, Ralph G. Obrien, Connie Trounstine,
John Deering, Allen Davis, Karen Mulholland, Steve Lindgren, Nancy Vogel, Matt Vincent,
Larry Winger Ron Armstrong, Dean Wingfield, Jeanne Triplett, Jessica Traphagan,
Yuma Public Library, and especially the Yuma County Cattlemen's Association for their 40 years of community leadership.
Created Date:July 20, 2017