Family fun at the Houston Livestock Show
After a cold and rainy start, the 2022 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was finally embraced by Mother Nature with extremely impressive weather this week. We don’t know how long this will last, so those looking for some family fun should head to NRG Park while the sun is still shining. We have some tips to help visitors get started.
I was lucky enough to wander around the Livestock Show on this sunny Tuesday to see the animals and the retail vendors. While I wasn’t looking for a cowboy hat or custom designed cowhide rugs, those who are will find plenty of options. Visitors can even buy a mattress or sofa at the Rodeo. It may even cost less than a turkey leg and a beer.
I haven’t been to a concert at the Houston Rodeo since 1977 when I was nine and saw Loretta Lynn. My friend’s father raised Charolais cattle and we hung out a lot with the animals in the cattle section. It was my favorite part. Back then they didn’t have all the cool things they have now for kids like the Adventure section with its educational farm and pony rides. Just seeing the animals up close was enough for this aspiring farmer who shared a name with a country music star.
Today, the Livestock Show offers a wealth of things for children to do and enjoy as they learn about farming and animal husbandry, although it’s more about caring than husbandry. Both children and adults will be fascinated by hatching egg incubators. Visitors can observe in real time the chicks pecking their way out of the egg. It is truly a miracle to behold. It can also be a little scary as they lie flat on their stomachs, exhausted from their exertions. A number of times I found myself staring intently at a few of them to make sure they were breathing. Then, without warning, they would arise, just like rain.
Other animal exhibits include The Rabbit Hole, with a dozen unique rabbits for attendees to view. Animals are kept behind glass but a volunteer usually brings one to pet. The English Lop was massive and the Lionhead rabbit looked like a Persian cat.
There’s also an exhibit with dozens of colorful parakeets and a station for kids (and adults) to learn how to plant seeds. The petting zoo is free but visitors can purchase food for the animals. I stood outside, amused as people were molested left and right by goats, deer, miniature llamas and burros. One goat in particular was particularly assertive, gently pushing aside a little boy as he tried to get food from the machine.
There’s a barn with special breeds including the star of the show, a handsome nine-year-old Marble Longhorn named Dude. He got the most attention and oohs and aahs. It was an impressive beast and its coloring was very unique. It is not to be missed.
The birthing center is always a big draw. I am a huge James Herriot fan and hope to one day be able to witness the birth of a calf or piglet in person. Unfortunately, I had missed the birth of baby calf Nikki at 6 p.m., but she was thankfully sitting next to her mother less than a day away, oblivious to the crowd. There is also a water pool where visitors can touch a live starfish.
Of course, the Livestock Show is much more than a simple 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 started, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As you walk among the exhibitors and their animals, you will be able to see the pride and care they take for their livestock. Many exhibitors are children and teenagers who want to show their work and hopefully win scholarships. It’s usually a family affair and owners are often seen napping in the enclosures next to their animals.
Of course, with so many big beasts, there’s the occasional cow dung or urine stream for visitors to watch their step. However, exhibitors always clean up after the animals, so it’s not as smelly as one might imagine. Watch out for electrical cords and uneven carpeting. It’s a working area and the animals should be admired, not touched.
Throughout the day, spectators can watch one of the competitions from the bleachers. These are important times for exhibitors and the beauty of their animals reflects their hard work. It might give you a little lump in your throat when you watch these youngsters proud of their accomplishments.
While Rodeo events are more flashy and chaotic, the Livestock Show is a laid-back, family affair. It wasn’t too crowded on the weekday afternoon I went, but that also meant the carnival rides weren’t open. It didn’t matter to me, but it could matter to some families. For people with young children, there is a nice little changing table in a chalet near the main entrance.
There is plenty of food and drink available inside and outside the NRG center. And much of it comes at a fairly high cost, although there are decently priced providers as well. Some of them also offer kids meals and there were a few for $8 and under. We saw a few Tex-Mex spots offering tacos, quesadillas, and taco salads at reasonable prices. Some vendors had burgers in the $10 range, but if you want to try Bun B’s Trill Burgers, they’re $19.95. However, they come with fries at that price.
Soft drinks cost between $4 and $6. Beer starts at $10.25. Wine is $12. I can’t remember the price of yard-long margaritas because my eyes rolled back in my head.
I wanted to go to the Horse Show but after hours of walking, my boots were no longer made for walking. I decided to head out and visit the Champion Wine Garden. Unfortunately it only opened at 4pm on weekdays. However, the young man said it opens at 11 a.m. or noon on weekends. It was a shame as there were wines on the menu starting at a very reasonable $6 by the glass. There are also a number of wines by the bottle.
As I limped back to my car, having just missed the tram, I was happy to have had such a great day wandering around the rodeo grounds. It’s great that such a special and unique event is coming back to the city that missed it so much. As Esther says at the end of Meet me in St. Louisas she gazes at the World’s Fair, “I can’t believe it. Right here where we live. Here in St. Louis.”
Just change the city name and the feeling is the same. Right here where we live. Right here in Houston.
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
From February 28 to March 20
General admission to the cattle show
$15, 13 and over
$5, 3 to 12 years old
Free, children 2 and under