FFA students return from the Yolo County Fair

Photo by Emma Johnson

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Sunday marked the end of a hectic and exciting five days for Winters FFA students, advisors and parents at the Yolo County Fair. The experience began when they loaded up their animals on 5:30 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 15, and didn’t end until they had cleaned up their stalls on Sunday evening. FFA Advisor Kayla Roberts says that the whole event is long and both physically and emotionally exhausting, but that the students did remarkable work. “I actually was very impressed by how helpful and supportive they were,” Roberts says. “They all rallied together and made it happen.” One event that required all FFA hands on deck was the hog showmanship competition on the morning of Thursday, Aug. 16. For showmanship the students need to look neat and well put together, and the pigs need to look clean. “You have kids who have never touched a pig in their life,” Roberts says, “and they’re helping with the hog.” A pig show doesn’t look anything like Westminster. Some people consider pigs to be as intelligent as dogs, but they can’t be expected to sit, stay and heel. Instead of walking into the ring in an organized line, the pigs step out as they please, and their handlers follow after. The FFA students carry long, thin switches, which they use to direct the pig toward the center of the ring, where the judge can get a good look at it. Many of the pigs seem to want to crowd into the corners, but the students were all working hard to keep their cool. They would glance down at their pigs briefly, but worked to make eye contact with the judge. This was the showmanship round, they had to make sure that they looked good. Amaya Jimenez explained why the students need to make a connection with the judge. “You need to show the judge that you’re focused, that you want to be there, that you want to win.” Ethan Carbahal was one of the first of the Winters students to enter the arena with his pig, Harry Houdini. “The first couple of weeks I had him, he escaped,” Carbahal explained. Harry’s talent as an escape artist wasn’t the only hurdle that his owner had to come. Houdini also was sick for several months over the summer. At one point, the pig was too sickly to even walk. “They have to keep their stamina up,” Carbahal says. He explained that the pig can’t look weak or strained. Carbahal had to work hard to get to a place where his pig was healthy enough to be a contender. Carbahal wasn’t the only one who was worried about making it to the fair. Brayden Winslow’s pig Michonne was underweight for most of the season. His mother, Janelle Winslow, says that he spent four to six hours a day working with the pig all summer. “We kind of treat it as a job,” Roberts says of the FFA projects. The students get their pigs in May, then need them ready to show by August. The students are expected to attend weekly meetings with no more than two unexcused absences, and line up care for their animals if they’re going on vacation. As Carbahal and Winslow finished up in the ring, the judge gave some advice for the novice class. Roberts tells her students to always listen to what the judge tells the The judge had some advice for parents and FFA leaders in the audience as well. “Please don’t tell your children to fake smile,” the judge begged. “I don’t care if you smile or you’re serious,” he told the contestants. Michael Kiefer was one Winters student who did not have to fake a smile. Kiefer walked into the ring with a big smile that he didn’t drop throughout the round. Brooke Benson joined him in the ring and the two of them guided the pig around the arena. Keifer’s mother, Cari Keifer, wasn’t surprised. “He’s always happy,” Cari said after her son was back in the barn. She says that this was his first year with a pig, he spent a lot of time working with the animal to prepare for the show. This was also a first year working with pigs for Alexis Pedroia, though this is her senior year. In the past she has shown rabbits. What prompted her to switch to a large animal for this fair? “It’s my last year, so I thought, ‘Maybe try something different,’” Pedroia says. She didn’t want to have any regrets when she looks back on the work that she did with FFA. She named her pig Pork Chop, and she included a recipe on the poster she hung above its pen. Even as a more experienced FFA member, Pedroia says that she still felt anxious as she directed her pig around the ring. “It was a little nerve wracking.” Pedroia says. “My stomach and nerves were going crazy.” One of Roberts main jobs at the fair is helping the students tackle their nerves. “Some of them need the pump up, like you would for your first football game,” Roberts says. By the end of the fair, Winters FFA had taken home awards for the Best Chapter Group in hogs, sheep and goats. This means that, of a group of randomly selected animals from each school, the judges declared that Winters had the best specimens over all. “In our opinion we had the best kids,” Roberts says. What does the after the county fair look like for FFA? “It’s just like any other day, you’re back to school,” Roberts laughs. They regroup, reflect, and plan for next year.  ]]>

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