Everything is bigger in Texas, and this motto is exemplified in Houston's massive livestock show and rodeo - from the crowds to food selection - but your resulting credit card bill doesn't have to be. After paying the price of admission, there are lots of things to do as a whole family without spending another dime. That's not to say you won't be tempted by the smells of deep-fried goodness and adorable miniature cowboy and cowgirl hats. Read on for free and fun activities, all of which are open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. every day unless otherwise noted.
1. Petting zoo. Entering the petting zoo is free, but it does cost $3 for a small cone of food for the animals. The food isn't necessary for the kids to enjoy petting (and chasing) the animals, and plus, the hungry goats usually snatch the entire thing out of younger kids' hands if they aren't careful. You can stay inside for as long as you like, and there are brushes laying around for the kids to "groom" the animals. Or in my toddler's case, use as a personal hairbrush. There is one petting zoo inside AGventure and another outside as a part of the Junction. The outside zoo is right next to Fun on the Farm.
2. Breed Row Barn. Inside a red barn in AGventure, Breed Row Barn lets kids get up close and personal with a variety of some very chill animals, from cows to swine. It can get a little crowded, but the kids will love getting a front-row view of the animals.
3. Birthing center. Although this exhibit may bring some unpleasant flashbacks for moms, it's a pretty amazing area where cows and pigs welcome their young into the world. Now when we say birthing center, know that you will see all of what that process entails. It is also broadcast on giant screens above the pins in case crowds prevent you from getting close.
4. Fisheries. This smaller exhibit highlights the fishing aspect of Texas agriculture, and the best part is a touch tank where kids get to feel a variety of creatures, including starfish and sea cucumbers.
5. Honey Bees. Don't worry, these busy bees are safely locked behind glass, and kids get to examine the stunning intricacies of beehives. There is usually a bee expert on-site to answer any questions and share more info about the insects. Also in this area are larger-than-life bug displays.
6. Horticulture. Also inside AGventure and in the same area as the aforementioned AGventure freebies, the Horticulture area teaches about the importance of soil composition and how it affects agriculture. Kids get to scoop their own soil and take some sunflower seeds to grow at home.
7. Milking parlor. At this area, there are seats surrounding a stage where presenters give demonstrations on how to milk a cow and what happens to the milk during its journey to your local H-E-B. Demonstration times:
Monday-Friday: 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.,4-6 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
8. Poultry and rabbits. You don't have to pay a thing to see the adorable and fuzzy baby chicks and rabbits. At the rabbit exhibits, kids can even interact with the animals.
9. Tour of Texas. Learn about the different regions of the Lone Star State inside of this exhibit. From the Hill Country to Big Bend, kids learn about the areas' various agricultural landscapes with interactive displays and models.
10. We're Small Y'all Barn. Just when you were sure you couldn't handle any more cuteness after those baby chicks, the rodeo hits you with this - a barn full of miniature animals. Kids get to see and touch these little guys, including miniature horses and donkeys, and learn how the breeds came to be.
11. Fun on the Farm. Just outside of AGventure at the far end of NRG is Fun on the Farm, which is a part of the kid's carnival area, The Junction. This is my favorite kid-friendly attraction at the rodeo! You wind your way around a "farm" where kids get to learn how to grow crops and plant their own seed (it's a plastic token), pick their own (plastic) produce, learn about how ti milk cows and shear sheep, and at the end of it all, they can sell the produce they picked at the farmer's market. The "money" they make from their sale earns them a free snack at the end of the line! Even if the line is long when you arrive, it's worth the wait. Note: This exhibit is open 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
12. Mutton Bustin.' While participating in Mutton Bustin,' AKA the rodeo's single-greatest event, isn't free - it cost $15 per participant - it's FREE to watch fearless those 5- and 6-year-olds hold onto fluffy sheep for dear life. You'll find the arena on the south side of The Junction right next to the regular rodeo carnival. Competitions run hourly from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
13. Live entertainment. At the Stars Over Texas stage in The Junction (which is outside), you can catch family-friendly shows, demonstrations, and even a talent show, all day long. Check the on-site calendar on the day of your visit for the full lineup.
14. Pedal tractor pull. This activity is fun for the kids and (very) entertaining for mom and dad. Kids ages 4-12 years old can hop on a mini tractor that is hitched up to a light-weight trailer and race to see who can pedal the fastest. Schedule:
Monday-Friday: 11 a.m., 12:30, 3, 4:30, and 6 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 11 a.m., 12:30, 2, 3:30, 5, and 6:30 p.m.
15. Pig races. Watch adorable piglets race around a 150-foot track. For viewing, it's standing room only, and the races are over fairly quick, so make sure to get there early before each competition. Schedule:
Daily: 10:30; 11:30 a.m.; 12:30; 1:30; 3:30; 4:30; 5:30; 6:30 p.m.
And of course, regular admission gains guests entry to the daily livestock and rodeo competitions, which include mounted shooting, a variety of horse shows, and more. The shows and competitions begin at 8 a.m. every day inside NRG Arena.
All photos by Shary Peck/Mommy Poppins