Youth competitors from across the state showed goats, beef, sheep, and hogs 

NORTH COUNTY — Over 800 competitors from across the state gathered at the Paso Robles Event Center for the 39th annual Western Bonanza Jr. Livestock Show in February. Put on by Cal Poly students from all departments of the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences, Western Bonanza is the longest-running jackpot show in California.

From Feb. 14-18, exhibitors from ages 5 to 21 competed with their livestock in market, breed, and showmanship classes. Animals shown this year included 450 head of cattle, 215 goats, 495 sheep, and hogs at 565. Jackpot shows are open to all youth showmen, including 4-H and FFA members. It can be a beneficial way for members to prepare their animals for upcoming county fairs or for up-and-coming members who are not old enough for 4-H to get some experience. 

Bradley resident Scarlett Hermosillo, 6, showed her goat Strawberry at the Western Bonanza. This was Hermosillo’s first year showing an animal, and she is looking forward to when she is old enough to join 4-H. Hermosillo showed Strawberry in the beginners goat showman class judged by Travis Hoffman from South Dakota.

When asked what she learned from her first show, Hermosillo said, “Don’t let go of the goat.” 

She placed in fourth in her showmanship class and celebrated with an ice cream cone.

Western Bonanza started as a senior project in 1985 and was the first of its kind in California. Since then, it has become the longest-running jackpot show in the state and stands as a foundation for other shows that have developed on the West Coast. 

The show is run entirely by Cal Poly students from all departments of the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences. 

Fourth-year Agricultural Systems Management major Bianca Sams, who was one of this year’s general managers, talked about the importance of the show for students: “This event allows students the opportunity to connect with individuals in the ag and livestock industry through reaching out for sponsorships, contacting judges to work our show, hearing guest speakers in class, and just mingling with exhibitors, their families, breeders, and others during the weekend of the show.”

The college students begin planning the show a year in advance, beginning right after the conclusion of the previous show. During the the spring quarter, students begin working to get sponsorships. After exceeding last years goal of $110,000 for the 2023 Bonanza, the team members challenged themselves with a sponsorship goal of $120,000 for the 2024 show, which they met. 

“We are so thankful for the support we get from our sponsors as Western Bonanza would not be possible without the support from those who donated money and gifts-in-kind like food, hotel rooms, and other items that allow for our event to run each year,” said Sams.

With 150 Cal Poly students working to put on Western Bonanza, it is the largest student-run livestock show in the country.

“Western Bonanza is also an amazing leadership opportunity,” says Sams. “Besides our advisor, Hailey Rose Switzer, the entire show is student-run which means students are doing everything from working the office, to running equipment, to making meals to feed our team, and running each species rings. Everything is done by students.”

The team is already working on next year’s show, which will be their 40th anniversary. Next year, it expects an even higher attendance and plan to look back on the last four decades of the show’s history.

Feature Image: Scarlett Hermosillo, 6, poses with her goat, Strawberry, and Sheep and Goat judge Travis Hoffman. Photo by Camille DeVaul