Victoria Livestock Show, Victoria

In Texas the beginning of the year means one thing: it’s showtime. For the countless exhibitors loading up their trailers and heading to stock shows across the state, it also marks the end of a year spent tending to prized steers, pigs, goats, lambs, turkeys, broilers, rabbits, and other creatures that they hope will win them a blue ribbon, if not also a hefty auction check. Most of those show participants are, of course, the future farmers (and ranchers) of Texas, and the junior circuit provides both an invaluable hands-on education and seed money for college. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, for one, which is the largest of its kind in the world, has doled out $404 million in scholarships, grants, and endowments since 1932.

A couple of hours away, in Victoria, the total prize money may not match that of the state’s best-attended livestock extravaganzas, but the impact is immeasurable. The town’s biggest event is celebrating its seventieth year and its mission remains proudly the same: as its unofficial motto decrees, “The show is for the kids.” In fact, it’s one of the few in which 100 percent of the auction proceeds—usually north of half a million dollars each year—goes directly to the junior exhibitors. And while showing stock may be serious business, there are also wiener dog races, horseshoes and washers tourneys, and a carnival to provide more than a little levity to the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work. February 25–28,

Humble Rodeo and BBQ Cookoff, Humble

Founded in 1947, this seven-event professional rodeo coincides with part of the Humble ISD livestock show and auction, which supports 42 schools. The barbecue cook-off and weekend concerts may get prominent billing too, as does the Future Farmers of America show, but it’s the chute dogging, calf scramble, and mutton bustin’ that provide the most entertainment—not to mention shiny buckles for the winners. February 5–13,

Matagorda County Fair and Livestock Association, Bay City

Cattle operations have long thrived on the fertile plains of this coastal county, predating even the founding of Stephen F. Austin’s original colony. The legacy lives on at the fairgrounds as local youth participate in a number of bovine-related competitions, including team penning, ladies’ calf decorating, and “wild cow” saddling, in addition to barrel racing, rodeos, and the coronation of the rodeo queen. February 19–March 6,

Kaufman County Junior Livestock Show, Kaufman

“Wash racks are full and there is a buzz in the air,” read one of many anticipatory Facebook posts ahead of last year’s festivities. Showing broilers and heifers and rabbits (among a number of other animals) is a rite of passage in this farming and ranching community. So too is participating in the talent division, which features everything from the best pickled products to the top cross-stitch patterns. A carnival, new last year, has added even more merriment. March 2–5,

Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo, Mercedes

The descendant of an event that began in 1940, this showcase represents the animal husbandry efforts of the state’s four southernmost counties (Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy). A parade from downtown Mercedes to the show grounds kicks things off with dozens of crowd-pleasing activities—from a swine skill-a-thon to the All Valley Cotton Style Show—filling out a busy ten-day schedule. March 11–20,