TREMONTON, Utah — McKenzie Sorensen lost the calf she planned to show at the Box Elder County Fair a few months into raising it and had to start from scratch with a new animal.
The 18-year-old had to overcome another setback when her replacement calf had rib and hip problems, forcing her to solicit the help of veterinary chiropractor.
But she overcame those obstacles and emerged victorious at the fair, hosted from Aug. 17-24.
Her family had no background in showing steer when she suggested that she might give it a try about seven years ago. Since then, McKenzie has earned several ribbons for her livestock.
She started by showing hogs but decided to try something different, and much bigger.
“I have always loved calves,” McKenzie said. “I knew I was going to have to figure it out along the way.”
Calves are purchased in October, and the hard work begins. Throughout the year, individual steer, chosen to be shown at the fair in August, are taken to jackpot competitions. Those competitions not only prepare the steer for the final show, but also give the owner the necessary experience to win it all.
“It’s almost like a sport,” McKenzie said. “It’s like a traveling baseball team, but instead we travel and show steer.”
McKenzie first won grand champion steer in 2017 at the Box Elder County fair’s annual junior livestock show. In 2018 her steer won grand reserve champion.
McKenzie graduated from Bear River High in June 2019, which meant this was her last year of eligibility to compete in the fair. She purchased her calf last fall, but by December, she started to notice something was off about him.
“I noticed he was hurting,” she said. “His back leg had a swollen joint.”
She took him to veterinarians and even traveled to Denver to heal the animal, but in the end, he didn’t make it.
“It helped for a while but by Christmas, he was lame and wasn’t eating and losing weight,” McKenzie said.
Eventually, she made the difficult decision to put him down.
“I loved him like a puppy,” McKenzie recalled.
Unfortunately, that meant starting over with a new calf, but finding one would be difficult. All the calves had already been sold by then. It took a lot of phone calls and research, but eventually, she found a man in Denver who had a calf from Pennsylvania. She hurried and bought it.
With a new calf, and now a late start on preparing him for the fair, the odds were against her. The calf was coming in dead last in every jackpot show she took him to, and judges were noticing something was wrong with his back but McKenzie didn’t give up.
“I saw potential in him,” she said.
As it turned out, the calf had a rib and hip out of joint and several visits with a specialized chiropractor helped alleviate the problems.
Then it was time to show him at the fair. Many said it wouldn’t happen, but McKenzie’s faith in her steer paid off, and he was awarded grand champion steer for 2019.
“It was amazing,” McKenzie said.
On Aug. 23 she walked through the auction barn at the Box Elder County fairgrounds during the junior livestock auction for the last time.
“There were tears rolling down my face,” she recalled.
Her steer, which she named Kenai after Disney’s “Brother Bear,” was purchased by three supportive community members and businesses.
“They really are like my babies,” she said. “It’s like losing a best friend.”
Every year she also shows a heifer. Her heifer, named Tanana, also from the movie “Brother Bear,” also won grand champion.
McKenzie plans on working and taking online courses from Brigham Young University. Using her experiences with raising and showing steer she has branched out by helping younger 4-H kids in the community by teaching them showmanship and other skills. She plans on going into an agriculture field and continuing to provide those valuable skills to the next generation of kids, including her two younger brothers and younger sister.