By NATALIE BRINK, CLAIRE LAWRENCE
Before the sun rises, some Vandegrift students are already driving to Cedar Park. The school day hasn’t started, but these FFA students are hard at work. Everyday, they can spend more than three hours working with their animals, preparing them for competitions.
“It’s a huge responsibility, but I think it’s really important that our students get involved and do those things,” FFA adviser Magan Escamilla said. “I think it’s important to care for something else besides yourself.”
FFA is a student-led club that prepares students for agricultural careers. Students can choose to raise and show livestock such as chicken, rabbits, hogs, lambs, goats and cattle. In Oct., some VHS students showed their animals at the Hendrickson Lamb and Goat show and the Hendrickson Cattle show. Other stock shows are coming up.
“You can win a lot of scholarships with stuff like this,” junior cow rearer Bryce Howsey said. “And it’s pretty good for hands-on experience.”
In order to maintain the animal’s health and training, students visit the ag barn at the campus of Cedar Park High School before and after school. In the future, an ag barn will be built at Grandview Hills Elementary for VHS students.
“It takes up most of my time because whenever I’m not doing anything, I go and work with them,” sophomore lamb rearer Mary Alden Laird said. “You constantly want to get better.”
While at the ag barn, students feed and work their animals. They prepare their animals for behaving well in the show ring. This includes grooming them and working on the way they will present them. Lambs are free-walked and cattle and goats are led.
“You have to work on showmanship,” junior lamb and goat rearer Camille Barkhuizen said. “You make sure the animal knows what to do in the show ring, not just think ‘oh, it’s play time. I’m just going to start headbutting things and playing around.’”
Students also have to make sure their animals eat more before travelling to a show. Most animals lose weight when they travel.
“They get nervous and they won’t eat anything when they’re in the car,” Barkhuizen said. “When it gets cold, they shiver and they lose calories, and that can mean they lose weight.”
Goats and lambs are judged on their weight, length and amount of muscle. Female cows are judged on the amount of fat on them, bone structure, and how suited they are for pregnancy.
Some FFA students want to be vets in the future and the livestock program helps them develop some of the necessary skills.
“It didn’t necessarily change the way I think about animals, but it definitely changed the way I think about raising them,” Howsey said. “It’s pretty much like raising a kid.”
Students grow bonds with their animals over the course of their projects but then comes the sale.
“The hardest part is when you have to sell your animal at the end of the year because you have grown a friendship with them,” Laird said. “Everyone gets attached.”