MANATEE -- Caitlyn Gilbert is a busy young lady.
The 9-year-old goes to B.D. Gullett Elementary School in Lakewood Ranch, is a member of the Myakka Allstock 4-H Club and Troop 476 of the Girl Scouts of Manatee County plus she skates for the Bradenton Derby Brats roller derby team.
She also started Cracker Cattle Co. with her grandfather, Larry Ellis, a long-time dairy farmer and is in charge of keeping her two sisters, Leigh Ann, 7, and Madison, 3, firmly in line.
But her favorite time is when her mom, Carolyn, pulls her blonde hair back in a tight braid and she puts on her game face to show her 1,075-pound reddish brown Charolais-cross steer, Gator Boy, at the Manatee County Fair, as she did Thursday night.
Although she was the shortest contestant in her weight class, the gutty Caitlyn pulled Gator Boy confidently around the show rink and won a blue ribbon.
Caitlyn was one of 75 contestants who showed steers during the 2014 Manatee County Steer Show at the Manatee County Fair in Palmetto.
An enthusiastic crowd of roughly 1,500 nearly filled the Mosaic Arena for the event, which focuses on the steers after Wednesday's event zeroed in on handler showmanship.
"The judges are looking for the steer that has the best overall profile and muscle package," said Mark Williams, a 1980 Southeast High School graduate who came to the arena with his wife, Beverly, a 1980 Palmetto High School graduate, to root on their niece, Hannah Whitaker, 14, of Palmetto High School.
The honor of 2014 Grand Champion steer went to Lakewood Ranch High School senior Jessica Embach and her Maine cross steer, Tii, which was the heaviest steer in the show at a whopping 1,455 pounds.
Tii stands for "This Is It," Embach's reminder to the world that this would be her last chance to win
And she did it.
"I worked so hard for this," said Embach, a member of the Lakewood Ranch FFA. " I have been showing for six years and finally, my last year I won Grand Champion and I can't believe it."
Embach said she will use all the money she earns from selling Tii at the steer sale Saturday for college tuition to be an agriculture teacher. She hopes to attend Keiser University in Sarasota.
"He was the biggest steer of the entire show but he held his weight very well and had good meat," Embach said.
The stands went wild when she won.
"I think there were 40 to 50 there for me," Embach said.
"The judge really liked the way Jessica's calf was finished and ready to go to market today," said Hugh Taylor, the long-time director of the steer show.
Judge Chad Carr is a professor in livestock at The University of Florida.
Spencer Teuton of Mighty Fine Stock won Reserve Champion with his 1,140-pound steer.
"A little smaller and not quite the degree of finish that the Grand Champion had," Taylor said.
The first place Manatee County calf went to Clay Wingate. Second place went to Billie Mason and third place went Chloe Bunyak.
Caitlyn's deeper message
Although 74 contestants, including Caitlyn Gilbert, didn't go home with a Grand Champion ribbon, all of them wake up about the same time every morning to feed, groom, water and keep financial accounts on their steers.
"She's done most everything on her own," said Carolyn Gilbert, Caitlyn's mother. "We bought the steer from Jim Parks of Come See Come Sav , the feed and farm store on U.S. 301 Blvd. E., and Caitlyn will go in and talk to Mr. Parks if she has questions. She's even figured she needs about $3.50 per pound at Saturday's steer sale to about break even."
"My life would be easier without showing my animals because I wake up at 6 a.m., but it wouldn't be my life," Caitlyn said.
Caityn's story also reveals being a 4-H'er is not all dollars and cents and brushes and feed pails.
Caitlyn's good friend Kelsey Hanson, 12, had never shown a steer in a 4-H show and couldn't even raise a steer at her house because she lives in Palmetto city limits, which bans livestock.
Caitlyn decided last year to take action.
"Caitlyn said to me, 'Mom, we have two calves. Please mom, can't Kelsey show mine?'" said Carolyn Gilbert. "She gave up her calf to Kelsey."
Kelsey Hanson, in her first showing Thursday, made the most of Caitlyn's generosity.
Kelsey expertly set up a 1,010-pound calf named Bounty Hunter and won best in her class at the steer show.
So, why did Caitlyn give up her top steer?
"We're Derby sisters," said a smiling Kelsey of Caitlyn.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7045 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.