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Arts & Culture

'A Good Place To Be A Cow': At Fort Worth Stock Show, Animals Are The Stars

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STEPHANIE KUO
This year, there are about 30,000 animals at the Fort Worth Stock Show. "It’s a good place to be a cow," says Clifford Buchanan, who owns the Diamond B Cattle Company in Decatur.";

Over the past 120 years of the Fort Worth Stock Show, most people will happily tell you it's the animals that keep them coming back. 

"I just think it's the whole 'city folk' thing," said Elizabeth Brady of Frisco. "You don't get to see them everyday. You may drive by, but you don't get close, and this way, you get to be close and see them and possibly touch them if you dare."

It’s clear there’s a universal love for cattle, goats, horses and pigs here. This is the first year the stock show’s animal population has topped 30,000. They stay in barns -- four for cattle, one for swine and one for sheep, and a large part of the stock show's operations is getting those animals safely to their temporary homes.  

Monty Kemp, one of five arena directors, said action in the barns starts getting serious a week before the show. 

"We put all the shavings down, and make sure the barns are clean and tidy and ready for the arrival of the animals," he said. "They come in in different shifts."

So, no, not all 30,000 critters are crammed into the barns at once.

In fact, Kemp said you’ll see about 2,500 or so at any given time. In about five days, after those owners have shown their animals, they pack up and leave. Kemp calls that the changeover period, which allows crews to clean up and prepare for the next set. 

Long trailers line up outside each barn, with owners running wheelbarrows of feed back and forth. They carefully fluff up pillowy layers of hay and shavings, and the rare mooing is drowned out by the sound of bleating goats and crowing roosters echoing down the corridor that connects each barn. It’s a lively but still relatively calm scene. 

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Credit STEPHANIE KUO
The $15.4 million renovation to Cattle Barn 2 includes a improved electrical service, better ventilation and more space for the livestock.

The stock show just completed a $15 million barn renovation. That money went primarily to revamping Cattle Barn 2, which now features an electric makeover, better ventilation and more space for the competitors. It also includes a 120-seat viewing area for a new milking parlor.

Stock show officials say it's a prototype for future renovations at the stock show. 

Most people here agree Fort Worth has the best barns -- possibly in the world.

"This place is legendary, and we’re improving the facilities as we go along," Kemp said. "We try to take care of the people when they get here, answer their questions and make them feel comfortable. And that goes a long way."

That’s what has kept exhibitors like Clifford Buchanan, who owns the Diamond B Cattle Company in Decatur, coming back for half a century. 

"[It's the] greatest show on dirt right here!" he says. 

Buchanan is set up in the state-of-the-art Cattle Barn 2 with his five brown Jerseys. And just like people, they have their own unique names. There's Diamond B Cherish, Laura, Dumpling, Baylou and Flojo. For Buchanan, getting his prize-winning heifers ready for the stock show is a year-long ordeal.

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Credit STEPHANIE KUO
Clifford Buchanan hangs up awards and pictures from previous stock shows.

"They’re not born broke to lead. They have to be trained and worked with everyday. You have to get them accustomed to the climate that’s here, the routine. They got to get used to hauling. We try to have some noise at home like this here," he said. "It’s a year-long process, but basically in the last six to eight weeks, that’s when we put it into high gear."

Buchanan also teaches his cattle how to step on and step off a trailer, and how to stand calmly during the nearly hour-long drive from the ranch. Once they’re here, it’s smooth sailing.

"We feed them three or four times day. They get milked twice a day; they get water; they get bathed. We’ll work on their haircuts some more and keep them in a soft bed," Buchanan said. "It’s a good place to be a cow."