While many fairgoers come to see the cows, goats, pigs and sheep at the Stanislaus County Fair during its annual 10-day run, many likely don’t realize that the students who show the livestock have been hard at work for months training, feeding and caring for their animals day-in and day-out.
Amberlee Esteban, 11, showed a lamb with the Turlock Eagles 4-H Club for the first time this year, she said, watching her animal gain nearly 100 pounds since she brought it back to the farm in January.
“I think it’s taught me a lot of responsibility for the lamb and how to take care of animals,” she said. “It feels a little sad to give it away now that I’ve sold it, but I know the money will bring me a new lamb this year.”
Esteban’s lamb is one of 2,000 being shown at the fair this year — a number that’s about the same as last year, according to the Fair, meaning that the exclusion of poultry this year due to disease simply encouraged students to show other animals.
Iliana Whittaker, who will be a sophomore at Hughson High School next year, is in her first year with the FFA and also showed an animal for the first time this year: a pig named Sizzle. She got Sizzle in March, and the pig weighed about 64 pounds, she said.
Whittaker kept Sizzle on the school farm, spending every day with the animal. She needed to feed it twice a day in order to get it ready for fair, and watched the pig go from just 64 pounds to a whopping 248 pounds in the span of four months.
“The hardest part was going out there every day of summer break and spraying the pig down and keeping it cool since they can’t sweat,” Whittaker said. “It teaches you to be there at a certain time to make sure it’s fed, washed and has water.”
While Whittaker was able to keep her pig on the school farm, some students have the space at home to care for their animals, making care just a bit more convenient. Chatom fifth-grader Logan Homen showed a pig for the second year in a row at this year’s Fair, and said it was a little different than caring for another pet, like a dog.
“You have to wash it once or twice a week…the pig pen at my house is on dirt,” he said.
While most sell their pigs at the market during the Fair, Homen said his grandfather has routinely purchased the pigs he shows, placing the money from the pig into a savings account for Homen’s future college tuition. This year’s purchase will be worth it, as Homen received a third and second place award for the pig, named Georgia.
“I like showing my pig because I’m really good at sportsmanship and I know how to stare down the judge,” Homen said.
Despite his success, each year, leaving his animals is always a sad occasion.
“My first year I cried because I was so sad,” Homen said. “I’m going to miss her.”