Land O’ Lakes High School has nice football and baseball fields. But if you go past them, you might see something unusual.
Like a barn with livestock, and students training them.
“People think we’re crazy,” said sophomore Augusta Browder. “They think we’re just out there rolling around with them (the animals). They don’t think we’re being serious about it.”
But they’re not being crazy; they’re being competitive. The school’s members of Future Farmers of America, now known as the National FFA Organization, are prepping their livestock to be judged along with other animals at the Florida State Fair and Pasco County Fair next month and other competitions throughout the year.
Some of the animals stay on school property. Other students own their animals and have homes that can maintain them, so they live on their land.
But wherever they stay, caring for them is hard work.
Browder gets up around 5:30 a.m., every morning, to feed her animals at her home, and does it again at the end of the evening. She can’t take extended time off, and she also has to practice with them so they’ll perform well when the time comes to be judged in categories such as appearance and showmanship. She’ll show a heifer and a steer this year, and she has a bull named Buster that she’s already planning to show next year.
Actually showing them only comes after getting the animals, caring for them and learning their behaviors and traits. The students often are showing large animals that are several times their weight, so developing a strong relationship is important.
“It’s spending time with them. If you don’t spend time with them, they’re not going to do what you want,” said Stephanie Dahm, who’s showing a 700-pound heifer named Dixie at the Florida State Fair and Pasco County Fair.
While Dahm said that Dixie is a calm heifer with a good demeanor, she still has to spend a lot of time with her. That means at least an hour or two each day during the week and then more time on the weekend.
Dahm has shown animals before, and had a Florida White rabbit that won Best of Breed at the Florida State Fair and the Pasco County Fair last year.
The jump to livestock is good practice for her; she plans to study livestock management and ranch management when she goes to college.
Browder, who wants to be a large animal veterinarian, also has a lot of experience raising and showing animals. And while she wants to win when she competes, it’s the experience and the friendships that make it worthwhile.
“I actually met one of my best friends at the Pasco County Fair two years ago,” she said. “We all realize that we’re doing this for responsibility, for leadership, to do something,” she added.
In order to do something special with their four-legged partners, they have to practice quite a bit. On many afternoons, FFA members will be out with their livestock, going through movements and practicing techniques. Even if some people at the school don’t even know they’re out there.
A lot of people at our school, when I say we have a barn, they’re like ‘We have a barn?’ Not many people know about this,” Browder said.
But for around 30 members of the school’s FFA program, it’s an important part of their high school experience. They learn how to handle different animals, they learn time management skills, and they get to spend time with both schoolmates and show partners.
“I love being out there with my friends, and I love being out there in the ring. Some people do sports, and I do cows,” Browder said. “I love it.”
“There’s something about cows,” she said.
Published January 28, 2015