Showing steers at the annual Lea County Fair and Rodeo is a Wheeler family tradition.
For 57 straight years, a young Wheeler has shown steers at the annual fair, and 12-year-old Tripp Wheeler of the Tatum 4-H club is ready this year with three hairy steers and a heifer.
“My papaw showed steers a long, long time ago,” said Tripp, who has been involved in 4-H for four years. “The Wheelers have really had a tradition of showing steers. I got involved in the tradition. I would say it’s rewarding for all the hard work you do.”
Tripp wants to hold onto the title of grand champion beef heifer, which he won last year at the fair in Lovington, along with two showmanship buckles. He’s got the infrastructure to make it happen.
“We’ve got a cold barn that stays at 55 degrees,” he said. “It grows hair on them.”
Tripp has raised the three hairy steers he will show this year — Guy, Sparky and Pablo — since they were baby calves.
“I started with the big stuff,” he said, adding raising steers is far more profitable than raising other animals like pigs, sheep or goats. “I would say once you get settled and everything you can make a little bit more money off of your steers and everything.”
The heifer Tripp showed last year won’t be with him in the show ring this year, however.
“She is out in one of our pastures,” Tripp explained. “Sadly, she had to have a C-section, and so we won’t be able to breed her.”
Tripp will return this year with a new heifer, 16-month-old Honey, which his older sister got from Oklahoma seven months ago.
“We’ve already got her bred,” Tripp said. “My first year I showed two heifers. The next year I showed two steers. I showed three steers last year, and this year I’m going to show three steers. One of my steers is from my heifer that I showed my first year.”
Tripp will also be a clown for the first time at this year’s Mutton Bustin’, although he said he has no intention of becoming a rodeo clown because of the possibility of broken bones.
Tripp, who prefers riding horses himself, has a big spread, with one horse that is his, two horses that are his dad’s, and two more horses that are his brother’s.
“I used to show horses,” he said. “I showed for two years, but I don’t have a good horse to show, so I just really ranch off my horse now.”
The son of Sadie and Larry Wheeler said raising cattle teaches life skills, time management and responsibility. He starts his daily routine everyday at about 6 a.m.
“We feed them,” he said. “We take our heifer and then we go wash her in the morning. I’ve got to clean the barn everyday and then we’ve got to wash the steers at night.”
Tripp, a member of Jackson Avenue Baptist Church, will be a seventh-grader at Tatum Junior-Senior High School this fall, coming from Lovington schools. He said it was Tatum’s agricultural programs that hooked him.
“You can get involved in a lot of agriculture and everything in Tatum,” said Tripp, whose dad was in 4-H and whose mom was a calf roper.
The Tatum 4-H club meets the first Monday of each month at the Tatum Senior Citizen Center.
“You do meet new people,” Tripp said, adding he does demonstrations on how to wash a steer. “I’m the reporter and so I just kind of listen to everything that’s going on and I report to the Hobbs News-Sun.”
The club’s community service project this year was cleaning a cemetery.
“It was pretty rundown,” he said. “There was a lot to do.”
Tripp aspires to be a full-time rancher.
“He’s loved that and the life that it allows us to live,” said his mother, Sadie. “He’s just my country kid. This is a family thing. We have a huge wall of pictures of all their cattle that they’ve sold over the years. It’s just what the Wheelers do.”