While many of those who visited the Stanislaus County Fair during its 10-day run came to see the cows, goats, pigs and sheep, many may not realize that the youth who showed livestock have been hard at work for months training, feeding and caring for their animals day-in and day-out.
Iliana Whittaker, who will be a sophomore at Hughson High School next year, is in her first year with the FFA and also showed an animal for the first time this year: a pig named Sizzle. When she bought Sizzle in March, the pig weighed about 64 pounds. Whittaker kept Sizzle on the school farm, spending every day with the animal. She needed to feed it twice a day in order to get it ready for fair, and watched the pig go from just 64 pounds to a whopping 248 pounds in four months.
“The hardest part was going out there every day of summer break and spraying the pig down and keeping it cool since they can’t sweat,” said Whittaker. “It teaches you to be there at a certain time to make sure it’s fed, washed and has water.”
While Whittaker was able to keep her pig on the school farm, some students have the space at home to care for their animals, making care just a bit more convenient. Chatom fifth-grader Logan Homen showed a pig at the fair for the second consecutive year, and said it was a little different than caring for a household pet, like a dog.
“You have to wash it once or twice a week,” he said. “The pig pen at my house is on dirt.”
While most in 4-H or FFA sell their pigs at the market during the Fair, Homen said his grandfather has routinely purchased the pigs he raises, placing the money from the pig into a savings account for Homen’s future college tuition. This year’s purchase will be worth it, as Homen received a third and second place award for his pig, “Georgia.”
“I like showing my pig because I’m really good at sportsmanship and I know how to stare down the judge,” said Homen.
Despite his success, each year, leaving his animals is always a sad occasion.
“My first year I cried because I was so sad,” Homen said. “I’m going to miss her.”
Central Valley High School FFA member Maria Macias was feverishly cleaning up her sheep before Wednesday’s showmanship competition. After the animal was placed in a stalk to prevent it from moving, Maria blew off its coat, brushed it numerous times and sprayed on a conditioner.
“It’s fun learning to take care of animals,” said Macias. “I live in the city so I have to raise mine on the student farm.”
Since January Maria has been devoted to showering her sheep and giving it a break from its pen by taking it for a walk.
She admitted that it’s always hard parting with her animal at the end of the fair.
Alyssa Clindaniel was the only member of the Ceres High FFA Club to raise a beef cow for the fair. It was her third year at the fair.
“It’s hot but it’s really worth it getting to show,” said Alyssa.” It’s one of my favorite parts of actually raising the animal.”
She has been working since January caring for the cow at the Student Farm. One of her least favorite aspects of the fair experience is getting up early to be down at the Turlock fairgrounds by 5:30 a.m. or 6 a.m.
While letting go of the animal is a tough emotional exercise, she says it’s all part of the experience.
“You sign up for it. You know what you’re getting yourself into.”
She believes the reason she was the only Ceres High student with a beef cow is because of the cost.
“It’s expensive. It is a very costly project.”
There are no guarantees that the dollars spent on raising a fair animal will be recouped in a sale, Clindaniel said. In the last two years she raised pigs and was unable to find a buyer at the market.
“Someone buys them at the auction but you don’t make nearly as much money. The higher they place in market the sooner they go in auction and the earlier you are in auction the more chance you have of having a buyer.”
Ceres 4H club member Colin Hill won the title of 4-H Grand Champion Meat Pen Rabbits and went on against the FFA winners to secure the Reserve Supreme Champion title.
The Ceres 4-H club won first place in the Club division and another member won Best of Breed with her rabbit. Sisters Hannah Rantz and Michaela Rantz won many titles for their cavy projects. Among them were “Best Of Show” and “Best of Breed” for Hannah while Michaela took home a “Best of Breed” and first place in Advanced Cavy Showmanship. She also competed in the Small Animal Master Showmanship on Friday afternoon.
Grace Curry of the Hughson 4-H Club made 2019 Reserve Supreme Champion in Market Hog.
Abbie Milligan of Westport 4H and Central Valley FFA , who has Down Syndrome, placed first place master showmanship with her three cavies. Abbie placed first and sixth with her Mini Rex rabbits, and earned Best of Show in photography. She also placed seventh in Advanced Showmanship and fourth in AOB Winter Heifer. Her meat pen in rabbits was market ready and placed eighth.
Milligan also helped to water the Westport 4-H garden, “Around the world with 4-H,” which received second place.
This year there was no poultry allowed at the fair. The decision came after California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and USDA recommended all Fairs evaluate their poultry shows due to Virulent Newcastle Disease (vND) that impacted a narrow population of poultry, making some poultry gatherings higher risk than others.
According to CDFA, the Newcastle Disease is a virus that affects birds and spreads quickly which causes high mortality, especially in chickens. It has been found in pigeons and pet birds and it only takes several hundred virus particles to infect poultry, feathers can spread it, other fomites (e.g. clothing, shoes, vehicles, equipment, etc.). Birds can look healthy, but still be shedding the virus.
(Jeff Benziger contributed to this article).