While most of our students are excited about homecoming, FFA students have different priorities this week. For them, the Kern County Fair is the most anticipated event of the school year. For 12 days, they rise and grind for showmanship, judging, and auction day. Any spectator knows that these animals are the cream of the crop– painstakingly cared for in the spring, the roughs of summer, and up until auction day. But don’t take their word for it: this week, I was able to get an inside look into just how much work these students put into their livestock projects. In this segment, I talk to Highland students showing steer, pigs, sheep, goats, turkeys, and rabbits.
Rabbits at the KCF
The rabbit is often considered a gateway or entry-level show animal. They will definitely not leave a hole in your wallet (like cough some others cough) and will still give you a great fair experience. Too, rabbits do not get auctioned off, so they are great animals for those who get easily attached. However, do not underestimate the rabbit. Katie Johnson (11), a 2-year rabbit show veteran and Junior Class President, says that she did not initially know how time-consuming a rabbit could be. “It’s a living thing,” she tells us,” and be prepared to get scratched!” Katie will be showing her standard Rex, Buster Brown, again this year. Katie and Buster were both sponsored this year– congratulations Katie!
For many fairgoers, rabbits are a great attraction for little ones. On Sunday, Highland FFA got together and set up petting booths around the rabbit barn. For an entire day, Highland students took the time to share the joys of their projects with the community. (I ought to mention that I was in on this plan– no advisor gave us the idea. Rather, it was rabbit owners Jas and Kaley Foley who brought the rabbit petting zoo to life.) For this special occasion, several families got the chance to pet, take photos, and learn about rabbits from the owners themselves. I honestly loved the experience (except when someone asked for my age and then remarked,”Whaaaa~ No way, I thought you were 12!” ?!??!) and am really glad Highland FFA has such knowledgable and dedicated rabbit showers.
Goats at the KCF
Goats arrived just a day earlier than the rabbits; last Thursday, students brought their goats and got their pens fair-ready. Jocelynn Valencia (10) stayed until 7PM finalizing her pen set-up. On Friday, she arrived at 6AM to wash, walk, and watch over her goat, Mochi. Then, she fed, weighed, and practiced showmanship on Mochi. She told us that a lot of things, like willingness to pose, often depends on the goat. Honestly, no two are the same; all goats have their distinctive personalities and habits. On top of all the shows, Jocelynn told us about the “5-star” event, where 5 people and their goats compete with a judge making the final call. A week from now, Jocelynn and Mochi will participate in the auction where Mochi will be sold for market.
Jocelynn & Mochi! PC: Jocelynn V.
Sheep at the KCF
The sheep are a personal favorite of mine; a key feature of theirs is the beautiful wool left on their hind legs, while the rest of their body is clean-shaven and trim. Sheep are stacked with three days worth of showing before the big day of auction. Sofia (12) is showing a sheep, Prince, for the first time this year. She shows us how they are posed– you stick their beautiful hind legs out and bring their head to your leg. Judges touch the lamb around and make their calls from there. Sofia tells us,” It’s a lot of work!”
Next, we met with two more first-time sheep showers, Maggie (10) and Lylianah (10). Lylianah tells us the story of how stubborn her lamb, Lupe, was at first. Though, anyone meeting Lupe now would never guess. This “natural” (variety) lamb was obedient and friendly to us. We asked them for some advice they would offer students going into lambs. She told us to be prepared and take full ownership of your project. Maggie told us that students looking into this should be aware of the financial side of things. Maggie told us about how her lamb, Wooloo, got hurt by chewing on a pair of clippers and how Wooloo’s treatment was a cost she had to cover. To offset costs, students generally hope to find good buyers or sponsors for their projects, and the goal is always to make what you’ve spent.
Despite the financial burdens associated with larger animals, Maggie and Lylianah both agree that showing their animals have been fulfilling in the friendships and professional relationships they’ve been able to create since starting their projects in May. While sad about departing from Lupe, Lylianah is coming to terms with the process and hopes to find a kind buyer that sees the value in all the love, work, and effort she’s poured into this one little lamb.
Pigs at the KCF
At the very far corner of the livestock pens–perhaps because they are the smelliest– you’ll find the pig pens. When I first dropped by the Highland Section, I was greeted by someone I didn’t know. They told me that Highland and the wonderful pig advisor, Mrs. Carter, help out students raising pigs independently as grade schoolers until they become Scots. This is not uncommon for Highland FFA. Mr. Leishman, the rabbit advisor, also pitches in to the community by offering free rabbit show training and knowledge. Highland FFA is truly a community contributor!
I spoke to Emelie Rhoades (9) and Faith Davis (7) about their experience this year, both very knowledgeable students having participated in the fair for years prior. This year, Emelie is participating in “Pork and Plaid”– an event where you hand-sew a costume for yourself and your pig. Emelie and Biggie Cheese will be dressing up as Dorothy and Lion!
We turn to ask them what the process of pig raising is like and what to be aware of before choosing to do pigs. They tell us that more than anything, you will have to want to do it. Emelie shared that there were many instances where she had to turn down plans because she made commitments to be there for her pig. Faith adds on that hard work coupled with dedication are the most important qualities you will need to undergo livestock management.
Dealing with letting go of your animal is a very real thing and you’ll find students do this through various means. For Emelie, that means setting boundaries. She affirms that her pig is “for fair, for money, for food.”
Other hardships that students showing pigs run into are making weight, teaching the pig to walk, and getting the pig to eat. Faith tells me how a friend of hers was sent home because her pig was just a tad underweight. It’s quite strict! She advises that pig owners have two, so that if one doesn’t make weight, the other does and can be entered to show. Faith also shares her struggles with teaching Wicked Pink how to walk– this is a common hurdle, but a tricky one. Pigs are great at reading and reciprocating emotion, so if you get mad, the pig will get mad at you. It is important to exercise patience to not stress or anger the pig. Finding a balance between training and being patient with the pig is no easy feat, either.
Throughout her years showing livestock at the fair, Emelie tells us about how judging and the characteristics of a grand champion vary greatly and are constantly changing. She says that a Grand Champion two years ago would not be Grand Champion now and vice-versa. This is where “fads” of the years come in. This year, a good rump and a flat back when the head is slightly upward is emphasized. Students also trim their pigs in a special way to accentuate the desired features of this year! Of course, each judge is different, which is why Emelie and Faith both agree that it is interesting to see how every judge can judge a single pig so differently from one another.
Steer at the KCF
This year, Aleah Vega (10) is showing her already-sold Venom! Venom is a Black Angus Cross who was hosted at the Whites, a generous family that works closely with Highland FFA. Prior to Venom, Aleah showed a steer last year. She says that the experience has been so different, especially because of how mean her steer was last year. Aleah loves her current steer because of how kind he is, and he loves people! Aleah says the best thing about raising a steer is the experience and skills she gains from doing so.
She brought Venom in Thursday and washed him then. Friday morning, he was washed again. She tells us a hack for raising steer–feeding oats, and lots of it. Not only nutritional for the steer, oats help balance the cost of feed. With oats, Aleah also trusts in Sunglo to meet all of Venom’s nutritional needs.
Curious, I asked her about the origin story behind her steer’s swagger name. I’ll admit– it’s a cute one. Aleah told me that her younger brother names all of her animals, and because he really likes the superhero, they went with Venom for this beautiful steer.
Even though Venom has been fully sold, Aleah will still display him at the auction block. She is also showing him. For steer, you take an arena walk, are stopped by the judge for judging, and then you pose your steer. Steers are posed with the legs all proportional to one another.
On Saturday, September 25th, Aleah showed her steer with flying colors. Receiving Reserve Grand Champion, Aleah’s hard work has been rightfully recognized this year.
(I just got a Spotify ad for Angus Beef… spooky!)
While Aleah’s time with the precious Venom is nearing its end, she is already looking forward to what’s to come. Next year, two other Highland FFA students will join her in showing steer. Aleah already has a steer lined up for her– a baby steer already about 4 feet tall! I am so excited to catch up with her later on this year to see how the new project goes. Good luck to all the Highland FFA students showing steer next year! Luckily for us, Aleah has a good amount of experience under her belt.
The fair is truly one of the only places where you can visibly note student growth, resilience, dedication, and commitment– it all stems from this one place. Talking to all these students has allowed me to step into their world of deep passion for livestock. I walk out with immense respect for all the hard work students put in. Yes, yes, yes– I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds~