Alachua County Youth and Livestock Fair Builds Competitors’ Life Skills

Percy stood firm in his place and shook his head in defiance. No matter how much Tessa Betke tugged and tugged, the steering didn’t move until she was good and ready.

Then Betke, 17, a high school student from Santa Fe in Alachua City, lovingly scratched his chest. As soon as his temper tantrum arrived, it disappeared, and Percy continued walking around the arena at the Newberry Agricultural and Equestrian Center.

Percy was among 100 competitors at the annual Alachua County Youth and Livestock Fair over the weekend. Students like Betke gathered from across the county to show off their best cows, pigs, horses, goats, rabbits and chickens.

The event, which began Thursday with animal weighing and camper registration and will continue through Tuesday, aims to build students’ confidence and responsibility through animal husbandry and other agricultural projects. . Students participate in Future Farmers of America and 4-H, two youth agriculture programs available to students through Alachua County Public Schools and the University’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences of Florida (UF/IFAS).

“Just raising an animal or a non-raising project builds record-keeping skills, life skills, leadership skills, civic skills,” said Cindy Saunders, director of UF/IFAS Alachua County Extension in Newberry. “I mean, you name it – 4-H and FFA develop those skills.”

The event was attended by about 85 meat animals, 20 market steers, 80 poultry, 11 livestock goats, 30 dairy goats, 40 rabbits, 120 pigs and more than 4,000 people, according to Pam Carter, UF extension secretary. /IFAS.

For the most part, Percy’s anger aside, the bulls obediently followed their teenage trainers, all of whom were easily outnumbered by ten.

The heifers – female cows intended for breeding – strutted around the arena in their freshly combed fur, judged on their feminine appearance and breeding characteristics, said Chylec Clair, judge of the steer contest.

Once a former competitor himself, Clair grew up on a ranch in western Wyoming and has been judging cattle for more than 20 years.

“I always admired the judge when I showed animals,” he said. “I would take what he was saying and use it to hone my skills, so I could come back better. Now I can be that guy for those kids.

Market goats have been analyzed for ideal lean muscle to fat ratios; breeding goats were judged on proportional structures and larger bellies that make them ideal for breeding, said goat judge Kyle Mendes, 29, who also grew up showing animals at agricultural fairs.

The center hosted the event for the second time after the Alachua County Commission purchased the arena. On Friday, the arena was dedicated to former commissioner Lee Pinkoson, who ensured the commission purchased the arena during his final year on the board.

This year, the fair operated without COVID restrictions, such as masks and social distancing after county mandates were lifted on February 28.

Santa Fe High School agriculture teacher Brooke Bailey helps groom a cow before the show. “I love working with children and animals,” Bailey said. “You see them changing so much, especially in people who have never been around animals before.” (Sarah Breske/WUFT News)

Brooke Bailey, an agriculture teacher at Santa Fe High, said she’s seen her students grow through the contest over her past five years of teaching.

One of Bailey’s favorite parts of her job is teaching students who have never been around animals and giving them the confidence to handle them professionally.

“‘I’ve never touched a cow and now I’m about to give her medicine, or I’m about to give her an ear tag, or I’m about to watch this cow give birth ‘: These are the things the teacher said she liked to hear from them after they had been in the program long enough.

“It’s really a great experience to see that,” Bailey said.

Betke, a student from Future Farmers, was among those who had never been around animals before.

Three years later, she says, she’s more confident and loves working with her Percy, which is named after her favorite young adult book character. She said she wanted to have her own little flock one day and would apply what she learned to other parts of her life.

“I love the chance to just be outside, working with animals and having that time to myself,” Betke said.

Kyle Mendes, 29, a goat judge who grew up showing animals at agricultural shows, said he hopes competitors benefit from the experience, even if they don’t stay in the industry.

“It’s one of those rare things where the memory doesn’t come from winning or losing or just remembering going to Disneyland,” Mendes said. “It’s the challenge and the struggle of working with your family and friends to accomplish something that truly leads these kids to the special and unique people they are going to be.”

Carson Willis, the all-time champion in beef steer and heifer competitions, said the agricultural program helped shape who she is today.

“It’s just been a lot of tough years and a lot of hard work that’s been put in place and this is my last year,” she said through tears of joy. “It’s a bit bittersweet. It’s even more special to win this year.

Willis, who has shown animals since she was 8, said the program experience gave her a better work ethic and allowed her to be more independent.

His steer, along with many others in the show, will be auctioned on Tuesday.

Competitors line up their market steers for judges to evaluate their characteristics at the Alachua County Breeding and Youth Fair in Newberry. “The fair is a fun time to show off the hard work we’ve been doing all year,” said Santa Fe High School student Emma Rowland (left). (Sarah Breske/WUFT News)