Critters, rodeos, bull riding return for stock show’s 80th

Kayla Quintanilla , of Edinburg Vela FFA, shows her market steer during the sale of Champions at the 78th annual Rio Grande Valley Livestock show March 18, 2017 in Mercedes. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@monitor.com)

Luis Saldaña has attended every Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo since birth.

Now, he is on his third year of being a member on the board of directors for the stock show, and noted the 80th annual event’s importance to the region.

“If you think about it, it is not just important for the Valley. This show is important for all of South Texas,” Saldaña, whose father was an ag teacher for Mercedes High School, said. “It is a show, but this is important to the community because it is a way for families to be directly involved in the agriculture industry here, and integrate it into everyday life. Youth also gets the opportunity to be involved in learning and demonstrating their skills in agriculture.”

In preparation for the stock show, thousands of bags of soft wood pellets have been scattered, blanketing the grounds where soon, hundreds of steers, hogs, goats and rabbits will nestle in.

The anticipated event festivities will be officially kicked off with the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show Parade in Mercedes on Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. at the corner of Texas Avenue and Sixth Street, trekking to the stock show grounds. Featuring themed floats, marching bands, tractors and horses of different colors and patterns, the parade will lead to the entrance of the Payne Auto Group Rodeo Arena, where the livestock show will be held.

This Mercedes show is the largest livestock show south of San Antonio, attracting thousands of visitors annually.

Throughout the week, hundreds of local students will show the animals they have been feeding, grooming and training since last year in hopes of winning in their respective shows, and for some, scholarship money.

On Saturday, March 16, members of 4-H and Future Farmers of America clubs will participate in the Sale of Champions to auction their prized livestock and earn scholarship money, in which 50 students recipients will be selected for grants that range from $250 to $2,500.

“It is extremely important that we invest into the future of the students; not only in their educational and career future, but investing in a future that will lay a foundation in them to want to return to our community and support the youth behind them,” Saldaña, 4-H youth specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, said. “It is about instilling the want to give back, reinvesting into the community.”

The 11-day-long livestock show began Thursday with the junior Santa Gertrudis Futurity show, and after the parade on the ninth, guests are welcomed to the carnival that will feature western-themed activities, such as tumbleweed crossing and kids steer roping.

At 9:45 p.m. Friday, Latin Grammy award-winning Tejano singer Michael Salgado will take the stage, and at the same time on Saturday, American country artist Rick Treviño is set to perform. For the first time, guests are welcome to concerts at no charge.

Next week, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Xtreme Bull Riding will take over the arena Wednesday and host a rodeo the following day — both at 7:30 p.m. in the rodeo arena.

New this year is a bloodless bullfight with a world-renown matador scheduled at the arena at 7 p.m. Friday.

The stock show has played a major role in Saldaña’s upbringing, and he said that though he has been to 50 of them, the event maintains its importance.

“I think it is one of the best educational events that a family can go to and enjoy and learn,” Saldaña said. “Really, it is a community event like not other.”

LIVESTOCK SHOW ENTERTAINMENT SCHEDULE

The 80th annual Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show is underway, and will offer free concerts as part of its general admission.

The Music Stage will run from noon to 11:55 p.m. daily.

Performers will include Michael Salgado, Rick Treviño, The Spazmatics, Mark Chesnutt, a Selena Tribute with Karla Perez, and Solido.

In addition, the livestock show offers its carnival, food midway, rodeos, and shows.
The Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show grounds is located at 1000 N. Texas Ave. in Mercedes. Admission is $10 for ages 12 and older, $5 for ages 2-11, and free for children under two. Parking is $10.