SFHS students learning the business side of agriculture

Santa Fe High students Nicole Edgar, front, and Tamitha Burkett, walk with their heifers in preparation for the annual county livestock fair this weekend while at Santa Fe High School in Alachua on Wednesday.

Max Reed/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 6:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 6:05 p.m.

Brooke Vaughn looked across the pasture, surveying students who were leading cattle in a circle in preparation for the annual Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show.

“I think they’re ready,” the 18-year-old Santa Fe High School senior said. “They’ve made a lot of progress.”

Hundreds of students and youth from across the area will show livestock during the annual livestock fair starting Friday. They stand to earn hundreds of dollars from the sale of their cattle, goats, pigs and other animals. They also stand to gain a sense of pride for competing in showmanship.

The fair also showcases a cookie bake-off, rodeo performances and pet shows. The event, which runs through Tuesday, is free and open to the public.

Students from the Santa Fe High agriscience program will also be competing. The academy enrolls more than 100 students, said program adviser Joann Brady.

Many of the students hope to enter veterinary school, Brady said, so they can work with cats and dogs, but there’s an increasing shortage of large-animal vets.

“We tell them in vet school they have to deal with large animals too,” she said.

Students perform necropsies, vaccinations and learn how artificially inseminate cattle.

The academy sits on 19 acres with stables and a barn and houses 20 head of cattle.

Cows are sold and nearby farms donate hay, Brady said, making the program self-sufficient.

“We’re a business,” she said.

Students are allowed to house personal livestock on campus for projects.

Ben Rhymes, a freshman, keeps his pig at the barn. His pig, nicknamed Miss Piggles by Ben’s 3-year-old sister, gained more than 210 pounds in three months.

Students are told not to name their animals, because after they are sold at the show, they are “harvested.”

Pigs, Ben said, are unique creatures — even if sloppy.

“They’re a lot smarter than you think,” he said. His pig learned how to prop her pen’s door to open the locking mechanism and escape.

Or maybe not.

“She thinks she’s a dog,” Ben said, scratching the pig behind her ear as she nuzzled his leg.

Heather Green, a 17-year-old junior, watched as a fellow student tried to shave his cattle, albeit unsuccessfully.

Green helps staff determine when cattle are ready for breeding and birthing. Participating in the livestock fair brings out a certain amount of entrepreneurship, she said.

“It’s a business,” she said. “You have to go out and talk to other businesses to get support for you and your animal. It’s marketing.”

Some mornings, Heather said she has to be up at 5 a.m. to prepare her animals. It can be stressful, “especially when you have a lot of animals at home too,” she said.

“On top of that, you have to have your schoolwork done or you can’t show,” Brooke said.

All the animals must be transported to the fair, groomed and bathed. Then the show can start.

“As soon as I go into the ring, I block out everybody,” she said. “It’s just me and the judge.”

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