MERCEDES — “Put the front feet back,” said Clint Rusk.

Carlos Guerra III, 12, of Linn, shifted his Simbrah steer slightly on the sawdust floor, stroking its belly to keep it calm.

Now after careful consideration, Rusk, a livestock show judge, named Carlos’s animal the winner.

“He’s about 100 pounds lighter than the other one, but all factors together he’s a nice animal,” Rusk said as Carlos’ family applauded.

It was early yesterday morning at the Event Center Arena of the 80th Annual Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show, and a brisk, chilly wind swept through the stalls. Young students waiting their turn at the judging of market steers brushed and blew their animals in eager anticipation.

Rusk’s calls brought both disappointment and smiles to the kids who’d spent months preparing their animals for the show.

“I’m looking forward to the sale,” said Quelee Rodriguez, 18, of Lyford. His American Breed Class steer had taken second place in the lightweight class.

“Since I’m graduating this year, it’s good,” he said.

He’d spent many long hours preparing his steer.

“Daily routine is probably just before school, go out and feed and water,” he said. “And then when I get home after school, bathing.”

While Rusk had commended Quelee’s animal, Jacqueline Rodriguez, 15, impressed him enough that her steer won first place.

“This young lady, her animal is light in his hips and he’s good on his feet,” Rusk said.

Jacqueline was delighted by the judge’s call. The win was especially poignant considering her steer’s behavioral issues.

“We used to struggle behavior wise,” she said, gripping the halter even now.

“He was badly behaved, but now he’s better,” she said. “I feel my calf has come a long way.”

This was only the second year Jacqueline has participated in the livestock show.

“I’m showing a lamb and chickens as well,” said Jacqueline, an Edinburg resident who is a freshman at PSJA High School.

“What I’ve enjoyed most about this experience is just growing with my calf, and he will definitely be missed,” she said.

Carlos said the biggest challenge in raising a champion steer is halter breaking.

“You have to halter break them as soon as you can,” he said. “Once you do that you have to start getting all of your feed supplements ready. Once you do that, you really have to start working on it, taking them to prospect shows, seeing what judges say to make them better.”

Why did he feel his steer caught the judge’s eye?

“He’s a little bit light, but he has the bone and the body and the capacity, and he’s real smooth on his walk,” he said. “He has a pretty wicked front end which means he shows a very long extended neck.”