Read Cattle and Children: Using Dad’s Lessons
Sara Shields escaped the hay field for a few days to work the ring in the junior cattle shows at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. She kept the ring organized and moving, which Robyn Toft, CSF’s Breeding Events Coordinator, said, she does better than anyone she’s ever worked with. She made the younger exhibitors feel safe and made sure the judge had a good look at each calf. She appeared when stubborn steers wouldn’t move on and stepped in to help the insistent little calf showmen stop without making a scene or a fuss. She has been quietly reading cattle and kids all day and will be doing it again in Denver in January. Shields said she was the lucky one, having the chance to watch a generation of upbringing kids grow up and see them now as they bring their own children to exhibit at Pueblo.
“I remember when Tami (Norgren) Arnold brought Mesa to me in Mesa’s freshman year and told her that I helped her and Mesa’s dad show their freshman year and throughout” , she said. “I don’t consider it a date, I just think I’m lucky because I see some amazing kids. It’s been such a gift to me.
Her first year on the National Western Stock Show staff was her second year at CSU in 1989. She worked in the newsroom as an intern. She ran the results from the ring to the office and eventually found her way to the entry office when Corinne Hummel was the cattle manager. Over the years, she returned to the Yards and worked with Chuck Sylvester, Tom Stromberg and Pat Grant, among others. She was eventually hired as a livestock superintendent, dividing her time between the yards and the hill. She said she wanted every young exhibitor to have a good experience and be safe.
“I know these families spend a lot of money to come to Denver, no matter what cattle they brought, they invested a lot to get them there and give them that experience,” she said. “I want them to go away and say Denver and the state fair treated me well and we were very supportive and people were fun.”
Shields grew up at the foot of the Sangre de Cristos on the San Isabel Ranch four miles west of Westcliffe, Colorado. She learned to read cattle working with her father, Dr. Ben Kettle. Kettle, a rancher and veterinarian, graduated from Colorado A&M in 1933. His senior year was the first year women were allowed admission to the School of Veterinary Medicine. She said at the time that he opposed that decision. Shields said God’s sense of humor shone through when Kettle got six girls and often had an all-female crew to work the cattle.
Kettle exhibited registered horned Hereford bulls at the National Western Stock Show and was, she said, a thought leader for the farming industry. It was an integral part of chest or high altitude disease research at CSU, something she discovered when she was a student there while writing on the subject. Dr. Tim Holt, renowned for his work developing and refining PAP tests in high altitude cattle, told her she would have to ask her father about his work as part of his research. She said Dr Kettle was humble and never mentioned the role he played. She said her father was a good man and taught his children the importance of giving back.
She said she and her sister have always shown home-bred steers from genetics that her father worked to develop, improve and keep breeders in mind when it came time to purchase bulls from quality herd.
“I loved it and was so humbled that I got to show off the cattle my dad raised and if I could win on show and stand in my weight class – you know I was never going to beat a steer with a straight-bred Hereford steer – but if I could hang on and roll the champ and if I could win every time, that was where my heart was,” she said.
The cattle-reading lessons she learned from her dad are the ones she says have helped her during her show career, and they’re the ones she uses in the ring to help youngsters. cattle exhibitors at CSF and NWSS. She said she has a soft spot for children who, like her, know their stuff after hours of work at home with the family. The steers, she says, show her which of them know their children and such.
When Shields graduated from CSU, she found her way to Nebraska to work for the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Association. One fall, while helping around the house, she said her father knocked over a bucket, stooped down to sit on it, and told her he had waited a long time for her to come home to be able to sit down and allow him to check on pregnant heifers. . Working together, he continued to teach her how to better time rotational grazing by listening to the ground and watching for subtle signs of early disease in cattle, and always reading them.
When he and his mother, Bet, who she says was a spit, were ready to slow down, her father called her in Nebraska to tell her he needed “a little calving help.” . He knew, she said, that she never wanted to leave the ranch, so the opportunity was exciting. Dr Kettle had five children from a previous marriage, Bet had three and together the couple had two more daughters, the youngest was Sara. She said she never felt allowed to return to the ranch and communicated with all of her siblings about the possibility. She returned to the ranch with their support and blessing and has remained there ever since. Dr. Kettle and Bet are both deceased, both having left their mark on the ranch and the state cattle industry.
The house she and her husband, Mike, live in is the house she grew up in. His living room is the original log cabin his great-grandfather built after immigrating to Colorado in 1869. He applied for ownership in 1872.
“I have to be one in ten children to come home and be in the very house that I grew up in and try to hold on to that set of deep traditional roots,” she said.
The Shields still have a few Hereford cross cows, although they were forced to cut back in 2017 during an exceptionally dry year. Mike has worked alongside Dr. Kettle for around 20 years, selecting bulls and building on the core herd that dates back to his bull campaign years at the NWSS Yards. Selling the purebred Hereford herd to survive the dry years was a tough decision, she said, and it was the same year she said Mike was called to pastor the local church. cowboys, which she said they didn’t see coming.
“I knew it was the Lord asking if we were going to make this ranch our idol, or would we go where you were called and He would let us stay where we had been since I was little,” he said. she declared.
This church call, however, was not a new chapter in Mike’s story. Shields said that when Mike was born, complications prompted the doctor to ask his father, Mike Sr., to choose whether to save baby Mike or his wife. He got down on one knee and promised to go wherever he was called if only the two were spared. At the time, she said Mike’s parents were trying to buy a ranch in Utah. Instead, he was called to pastor a small church in Evergreen when it was still a ranching community. He ran a ranch in that area and spent more than 40 years leading nondenominational churches in small communities.
Mike found his way to Nebraska while his father was pastoring a church near Bassett, and went to college there on a basketball scholarship. Although Bassett was in her territory while working for the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Association, the two did not cross paths until she returned to the ranch in 1995. At the time, Mike was working for a tool dealer and they bump into each other. Several years later, he ran a ranch a few miles south of San Isabel. She said he was dealing with a group of sick calves and drove to the ranch to seek advice from Dr Kettle. The rest, she says, is history and part of God’s plan.
There are still a few purebred Horned Herefords on the ranch, although these days it’s mostly Angus and Red Angus bulls back to Red Angus bulls. Customer yearlings and a hay farm complete the San Isabel.