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Fair ends with good memories
Alissa Atchison
Alissa Atchison spent months raising this 264-pound hog which she showed at the fair last week. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

The Stanislaus County Fair ended its 10-day run on Sunday with a lifetime of memories for a number of Ceres and Hughson youth in 4-H and FFA who brought their animals for exhibition.

In the swine barn on Thursday, Central Valley High FFA student Cristina Valtierra was busy caring for her 264-pound hog, a cross bred gilt. She received a second place award in swine market class 56. Judges looked at a variety of qualities, such as muscle tone, long-term walking prospects and body structure and fat coverage. The fair was the culmination of lots of work to raise the hog.

"I would be at the (School) Farm for two to three hours in the morning and then I would go back and feed her at night and I'd be there another two or three hours training her, feeding her," said Valtierra.

She parted with her hog, Olivia, on Saturday.

"I told myself in the beginning that she was going to be raised to be eaten. She's not going to be a pet so I have it in the back of my mind but yeah, I'm gonna be upset because I put a lot of hard work and effort into her and not being there every morning and looking after a pig is going to be different."

A total of 10 from Central Valley High FFA students entered their swine in the Fair. To add some humor to their stalls, the students posted yellow stars with pig themed Hollywood actor names, such as Hammuel Jackson, Luke Swinewalker, Rihamma, Amy Swinehouse, Notorious P.I.G., Chuck Boaris and Justin Bieboar and Justin Piggerlake. The extra thought played well into a contest on pen presentation and cleanliness.

Ceres High School FFA member Alissa Atchison was a "little bit" disappointed with her Duroc's fourth place showing. Much of the effort to raise the hog, which started in April, was spent "getting them to know us to feel more comfortable with us."

For the run of the Fair Alissa got out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to be at the Turlock Fairgrounds by 6 a.m. Some nights ended at 7 p.m. and others past 11 p.m.

"I enjoy seeing other people and how other people work with their animals and being able to learn other ways to do things with your animal to make you better for the next year. You see kids show and learn techniques."

Alissa didn't consider it hard letting go of her animal, saying it's something she's done before.

"It's just kind of the way of life. I mean, I'm providing someone else food on the table."

She went into the end of the fair hoping to get $5 per pound. At 264 pounds Atchison was hoping to get $1,300. After considering the cost of the hog, food and supplies, she hoped to net $500.

The 2016 fair was her fourth year for the senior, Alissa.

Atchison plans to attend Fresno State on her path to become an agriculture teacher. Part of her aspiration came after interacting with ag teacher Mardel Runnels.

A total of seven swine were entered by CHS students. Zach Smith took first in his swine class and made it to the final round of Advanced Showmanship. Smith also has desires to become an ag teacher.

Matthew Bailey and Gillian Taylor of Ceres High FFA both made it to the first round of Advanced Showmanship. Kendall Neilson and her sheep won fifth overall in Advanced Showmanship. Kailee Fox placed third in market steer on Wednesday evening.

"I'd say almost like all of our kids placed in the top 50 percent of all of their classes," said Runnels. "It's always a nice feeling as a teacher when your kids come out smiling and they're happy."

Matthew Bailey participated in Outstanding Exhibitor competition. It involved an interview on his knowledge of his project, the pig industry and agriculture in general.

Bailey also won Best of Show with a 1948 International Farmall Cub tractor which he restored with the help of dad at his family's residence on Glasgow Drive in Ceres. Only 5,000 were manufactured that year. The antique tractor was the equivalent of three and a half horses on the family farm. The original cost was $545. The Baileys purchased it from a woman on Faith Home Road during the 2015 County Fair. After restoration the tractor is worth upward of $7,000 but the family won't be selling.

Runnels said the Ceres High ag program is picking up as illustrated by more fair entries than last year.

"We're on the rise," said Runnels. "They (Central Valley High) have a lot more teachers and a lot more students but I think it's safe to say that we're on the rise. Our numbers from last year to this year have increased in our program. We have more students showing at the fair this year than last year. For the three years since I've been there we've been on the rise every year."

That increase is due to an expansion in classes with a full animal science pathway. There is a natural draw to animal projects, Runnels said.

"We've upped our game on activities at school that we offer. We do a huge Farm to Factory Day and bus in 900 third-graders from throughout the Ceres Unified School District. Kids love those those type of activities. A lot of my freshmen this year came to me and said, ‘We can't wait for Farm Day. We saw it when I was in third grade.'"

Carina Mendoza, a member of Westport 4-H, had her hands full caring for two cows during the fair.

"It's a lot of work," said Mendoza, a Turlock resident who attends Pittman High School. She had her knee in a brace since one of the cows fell on her leg, badly bruising her. "Yesterday when I was showing her I was like, ‘You better be good' and yeah she was really good yesterday."

On Wednesday Mendoza was the True Novice Dairy Showmanship.

Others who did well at the fair included Westport 4-H member Devon Campos who won Grand Champion among the Duroc breed of swine; and Katie Langley of Hughson FFA won the Reserve Supreme Champion market lamb.