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County Fair: a great experience for local youth
One quality certainly not lacking among the youth who staked out the recent Stanislaus County Fair is initiative. The determination of a number of Ceres, Hughson, Keyes and Westport kids was evident in their work, whether it was restoring a tractor, raising animals for fair showmanship or market, or entering yummy-looking pies in the 4-H exhibit hall.

Melissa Pence, a Ceres High FFA student, found out that hard work doesn't necessarily ensure success. She worked hard to raise her heifer, Daisy Duke. But when it came time to participate in the Dairy Grade Heifer Class competition on Wednesday afternoon, the results were disappointing for the FFA dairy student: her cow placed 10th out of 11.

"They said she was narrow in the hind quarter and heavy," said Pence, a senior in the first year of a two-year FFA dairy program. "There's always next year."

The disappointment seemed thin as she talked about being in the ring with the judge and other competitors.

"You're always wondering what the judges are thinking," she said.

Pence leaves the fair to concentrate on breeding the cow and selling her off at next year's fair.

"It's a long project. A lot of effort."

In the cool shade of a barn, a group of Westport 4-H dairy students balanced free time with the responsibilities of grooming their cows, shoveling poop from the stalls and watering and feeding their animals. They set up a small encampment in the aisle, amid the smell of fresh straw and animals, to play cards. They were all too eager to talk about their 4-H experience at the fair.

"It's fun," said Westport 4-H President Trevor Nutcher, who's been at nine prior county fairs. "It's busy but it's fun."

Nutcher is attending Modesto Junior College but plans to transfer to Chico State University as a dairy science major.

Haley Cardoso, a Westport dairy contestant, said her fair experiences should help her as she studies animal sciences.

Christa McDiffett, a Denair High student who is part of Westport 4-H, said the fair gave her time to hang out with friends and anticipate doing well at the show.

Brittani Summerlot, a Central Valley High senior, was feeling good about her single swine entry, Piggy Sue, who took fifth in True Novice Showmanship and second in her pig's weight class. She was not especially happy about her pig's obstinence as she tried ushering the 230-pound swine into the pen after a walk through the fairgrounds. Piggy Sue didn't want to go in.

"Usually she's obedient," apologized Summerlot. "Pigs are curious and they like to walk around and check out the other animals. If you don't walk around they will get fat."

Summerlot busts the myth that pigs are nothing but fat.

"Pigs are muscular. That's all muscle there," she said, slapping a hand lightly on the pig's side as it was lying in the sawdust.

Brittani decided to get involved in FFA this school year as an entry into her planned career as a veterinarian.

"I figured it would be a good way to learn about animals," she said. "I've enjoyed it a lot. I've learned a lot. It's been very cool as a one-on-one experience with an animal."

Bonding with the animal has been problematic. While it's been sweet raising the animal, she was also thinking ahead to selling it off.

"I'm very attached. She's like my dog. She loves her belly rubbed. I'm gonna cry when I sell her."

Summerlot also learned how to make and adhere to a budget in the hopes that the sale would cover the expenses of boarding, caring for and feeding the animal.

"You have to manage your money well."

Ceres 4-H leaders used the fair as a way to bolster a fading program. Of the 15 members, only five entered the fair. One of the most impressive projects was William Bailey's restored 1949 John Deere tractor, its wheels dressed out in yellow, and its body trimmed in - what else - John Deere green.

"Print that it's not for sale," firmly stated Bailey, as if he's been asked to part with it a dozen times. "I'm gonna keep it in our garage."

Bailey's work took first place in 4-H Beginning Engineering class, tractor project division. He purchased the tractor for $500 as a forgotten rusty piece at a French Camp farm and towed it to the family's house on Glasgow Avenue in Ceres. The process of stripping it of rusty, painting it, replacing hard-to-find parts and more cost about $3,800.

William expects to use the tractor to haul wagons down future Christmas Tree Lanes and other public venues.

The fair also allowed the Ceres boy to take first in Yorkshire class with his swine.

Also in Ceres 4-H, Nathan Gutierrez took a Best of Show in 4-H horticulture. Matthew Smith did well in rabbits.