Special Events

Houston Livestock Show: Fun For All Ages

Someone's hungry.
Someone's hungry. Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

After a cold and rainy start, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo 2022 has finally been kissed by Mother Nature with some tremendously awesome weather this week. We aren't sure how long this is going to last so those looking for some family-friendly fun should head down to NRG Park while the sun still shines. We have a few tips to get visitors started.
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Giant boots are everywhere.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
I was fortunate to have a stroll around the Livestock Show this past sunny Tuesday to check out the animals and the retail vendors. While I wasn't in the market for a custom-designed cowboy hat or cowhide rugs, those who are will find plenty of options. Visitors can even purchase a mattress or sofa at the Rodeo. It may even cost less than a turkey leg and a beer.
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Howdy, the official Rodeo Houston mascot, says "Howdy!"
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
I haven't actually been to a concert at the Houston Rodeo since 1977 when I was nine years old and saw Loretta Lynn. My friend's father raised Charolais cattle and we got to do a lot of hanging around with the animals in the livestock section. It was my favorite part. Back then, they didn't have all the cool things they have now for kids like the Agventure section with its petting zoo and pony rides. Just seeing the animals up close was enough for this wannabe farm girl who shared a name with a country music star.
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Pop goes the chicken.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Today, the Livestock Show has a multitude of things for kids to do and enjoy as they learn about agriculture and animal husbandry, though more of the caring part than the breeding. Children and adults will be fascinated by the egg hatching incubators. Visitors can watch in real time as baby chicks peck their way out of the egg. It truly is a miracle to see. It can also be a little scary as they lay flat out, exhausted by their efforts. A number of times, I found myself looking closely at a few of them to make sure they were breathing. Then, without warning, they would pop up, right as rain.
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FFA students learn about farming, ranching and carnival treats.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Other animal exhibits include The Rabbit Hole, with a dozen or so unique rabbits that attendees can admire. The animals are kept behind glass but a volunteer usually brings out one for petting. The English Lop was massive and the Lionhead bunny looked just like a Persian cat.

There is also an exhibit with dozens of colorful parakeets and a station for children (and grownups) to learn about planting seeds. The petting zoo is free but visitors can buy feed for the animals. I stayed on the outside, amused as people were molested left and right by goats, deer, miniature llamas and burros. One goat in particular was especially assertive, gently knocking a little boy out of the way as he tried to get feed from the machine.
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This Dude is a stud. Literally.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
There is a barn with special breeds including the star of the show, a beautiful nine-year-old marble Longhorn named Dude. He attracted the most attention and oohs and aahs. He was an impressive beast and his coloring was very unique. He is not to be missed.

The Birthing Center is always a big draw. I am a huge James Herriot fan and one day, I hope to actually get to witness the birth of a calf or piglet in person. Unfortunately, I had missed the birth of baby calf Nikki by 18 hours but she was happily sitting next to her mom at less than a day old, oblivious to the crowd. There is also an aquatic tank where visitors can touch a live starfish.
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Whose ewe will win?
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Of course, the Livestock Show is much more than just an educational adventure. People from all over the country bring their animals to show which is why it was so heartbreaking in March 2020 when the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was canceled just days after it began, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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This diva has her own beauty team.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Taking a stroll among the exhibitors and their animals, you can see the pride and care that they take with their livestock. Many of the exhibitors are children and teens looking to show off their work and hopefully, earn some scholarship funds. It's usually a family affair and the owners are often seen napping in the pens next to their animals.
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This bull from Detering Red Brahmans is aptly named Big Boy.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Of course, with so many large beasts there is the occasional cow pat or urine stream so visitors should watch their step. However, the exhibitors are always cleaning up after the animals so it isn't as smelly as one would imagine. Be mindful of the electrical cords and uneven mats. It is a working area and the animals should be admired, not touched.

Throughout the day, spectators can take in one of the contests from the bleachers. These are important moments for the exhibitors and the beauty of their animals reflects their hard work. It might give you a little lump in your throat as you watch these young people taking pride in their accomplishments.
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What a great idea for families.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
While the Rodeo events are more flashy and chaotic, the Livestock Show is a family-friendly and laid-back affair. It wasn't crowded on the weekday afternoon that I went but that also meant the carnival rides weren't open. That didn't matter to me but it might be important to some families. For folks with small children, there's a cute little baby changing station in a cottage near the front entrance.
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The Deep Fried Jambalaya Roll at Cajun Cowboy is a Gold Buckle first place winner.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
There is plenty of food and drink available both inside and outside NRG Center. And much of it comes at quite a cost, though there are some decently-priced vendors, too. Some of them also offer kids meals and there were a few for $8 and less.  We did see a couple of Tex-Mex spots offering reasonably-priced tacos, quesadillas and taco salads. Some vendors had burgers in the $10 range but if you want to try out Bun B's Trill Burgers, they are $19.95. However, they do come with fries at that price.

Soft drinks are in the $4 to $6 range. Beer starts at $10.25. Wine is $12. I can't remember how much the yard-long margaritas were because my eyes rolled back in my head.
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The Champion Wine Garden sits in the shadow of the Astrodome.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
I wanted to go over to the Horse Show but after hours of strolling, my boots were no longer made for walking. I decided to head toward the exit and check out the Champion Wine Garden. Sadly, it didn't open until 4 p.m. on weekdays. However, the young man said it opened at 11 a.m. or noon on the weekends. That was a bummer because there were wines on the menu starting at a very reasonable $6 by the glass. There is also a number of wines by the bottle, too.
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Attendees can grab a turkey leg on the way in or on the way out.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
As I limped back toward my car, having just missed the tram, I was glad that I had such a beautiful day to wander around the Rodeo grounds. It's great to have such a special, unique event return to the city that has dearly missed it. As Esther says at the end of Meet Me in St. Louis, as she gazes out at the World's Fair, " I can't believe it. Right here where we live. Right here in St. Louis."

Just change the city name and the sentiment's the same. Right here where we live. Right here in Houston.

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

NRG Park
February 28 through March 20
rodeohouston.com

Livestock Show General Admission
$15, ages 13 and up
$5, ages 3 to 12
Free, children 2 and under
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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.