Youth raising animals for fair learn valuable lessons
Published: Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 9:43 p.m.
Ten-year-old Will Eubanks' boots were thick with mud as he stomped through the wooden pen that Number 82 calls home.
Youth Fair and Livestock Show
Alachua County 4-H and FFA youth ranging in age from 8 to 18 can participate in the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show, which runs March 7-12 at the Alachua County Fairgrounds, near the intersection of Waldo Road and Northeast 39th Avenue.
For a schedule and additional information on this week's show, go to: http://alachua.ifas.ufl.edu/.
Number 82 is hefty and pink with bristly hair and a deep grunt. When Will brought him home to his family's Micanopy farm in October, the pig weighed 56 pounds. Now, he weighs around 270.
“Get up,” Will told the hog as he lay in the mud. The pig didn't budge.
After a few more tries, Will gave the hog's stomach a scratch. A short while later, the pig walked out of the wooden gate, mud glistening on his hooves, and nuzzled the hay-strewn ground.
Number 82's littermate, a black-and-white pig, wandered around the fenced-in, muddy area connected to the pen.
Earlier, Will had pointed to Number 82: “There's the pig that I'm showing,” he said. Turning toward the littermate, Will said: “There's the pig we're going to eat.”
Number 82 is destined for the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show, where Will hopes he'll find a buyer. The other is bound for the Eubanks family's table, possibly as an Easter ham.
Participating in the fair shows students how food gets to their dinner plates and teaches them key skills, said Matt Benge, 4-H youth development agent. Alachua County 4-H, a program within the county extension office, provides educational activities for youth.
“Some of these kids will not go into agriculture-related occupations and fields, and that's OK,” he said. “These skills that they're learning — hard work ethic, cooperation — those things will transfer over throughout their life as future adults in our community.”
This will be Will's second time at the fair — which runs from Thursday through Tuesday, March 7-12, at the Alachua County Fairgrounds — but his first time showing a pig.
Last year, Will raised a steer and a heifer. Raising pigs seemed like fun, and besides, pigs are funny, he said. But taking care of them entails certain responsibilities.
Will gets up at 6 in the morning to feed his pigs and check their water. He dumps food into their feeder in the late afternoon as well, and the littermates squeal and squabble over the next mouthful.
They each eat between 6 and 8 pounds of feed a day, depending on how much Will gives them.
A few times a week, Will takes Number 82 out of the pen to practice leading him with a wooden cane, which he'll use when he shows the pig at the fair.
People often buy livestock above market price at the fair to help the children, who may reinvest the money in next year's project or save it for college.
Will's parents, John and Emily Eubanks, funded his first fair experience raising a steer, which sold for just under $1,000. This year, Will is reinvesting that money into his pigs.
John Eubanks said he considers the fair worth the time and money involved because of the life lessons Will has learned about self-reliance and responsibility, as well as lessons about treating animals humanely.
“It was an investment into his education, his future,” Eubanks said.
When Will grows up, he's thinking about raising pigs on his family's farm. This gives him a taste of the experience.
Next year, John and Emily Eubanks say they will make the same investment for Will's sister, 8-year-old Kaity, who can't wait to join the fair.
Every morning, Megan and Malerie Whitehurst are awakened by the bleating of goats.
The sisters, whose family farm in the Archer area specializes in beef cattle, have been showing market goats at the youth fair for the past six years and breeding them for the past four.
The sisters feed them around 6:30 or 7 a.m. and again in the evening, keep their hair trimmed and clean the goats' roomy, fenced-in home as best they can.
“If you have goats, you almost have to have a sense of humor,” Malerie, 16, said. “They are escapees.”
Even when they're kept in their pen, they find a way out. When the sisters let the goats roam the property, they are liable to jump on everything — the porch steps, the plastic bins, the golf cart.
But the goats are friendly, hopping up to put their hooves on the fence slats so they can get closer to Megan or Malerie.
“They've got a great personality,” Megan, 18, said. “They're kind of like a dog.”
Every year, the pair try to improve their herd by testing different training tactics.
They grew up on the family farm, so the sisters have never become too attached to their goats.
“They're not raised as a pet,” Megan said. “They're raised as livestock.”
Their first year at the fair, they trained the goats to lead like a dog, clipped their hair like a horse and showed them like a steer, their mother, Mae Whitehurst, said. The sisters have gotten better since then.
Now, they teach the younger generation of 4-H students the lessons they've learned.
Megan, a high school senior, said she plans to major in animal science in college and has placed the money from her youth fair earnings — whatever she hasn't spent on her goats — into a college fund.
Malerie said she hopes to have a career in agriculture, although she doesn't know exactly what she wants to do. Whatever she does, she said she'll use her youth fair skills throughout her life.
“Caring for animals, to me, is practice caring for yourself when you get older or caring for your family,” she said.
Hannah Gwynn reached into the cage that rests on cinderblocks in her backyard and pulled out a small, black ball of fur with touches of brown.
With chubby cheeks and perky ears, Snickers rested on a table as Hannah, 16, explained that she would show the Netherland dwarf rabbit at the upcoming youth fair for the first time.
“He's a sweetie,” said the fair veteran, petting the little animal.
Hannah has raised rabbits since she was 6 years old, when her mom, Melinda Gwynn, got her involved in 4-H. Unlike some of her counterparts who hope to sell their livestock at the fair, Hannah shows animals that she can bring home and continue to nurture.
She prefers it that way, she said, because it is not worth the tears. “I get attached to goldfish,” she laughed.
Every day, Hannah goes out to her backyard to make sure her rabbits and chickens have enough feed and water. She keeps their cages clean, and she often holds the critters that she said have learned to love her.
“They come running up to the door when they see you,” she said.
For her chickens, she trims their nails and washes them to prepare for the fair. To get them looking shiny, slick and clean, she runs some Vaseline through their feathers and puts a little Vaseline on the red combs atop their heads. Her rabbits get bathed, too, and their fur brushed.
Most of Hannah's animals live just outside the main house on the Gwynn family's property in northeast Gainesville, including her two horses, Annie and Toby, who don't get shown in competitions.
But one special rabbit gets to stay inside the house with the Gwynn family.
Brown with white patches around his face, Otis and his big floppy ears hop around inside the Gwynn home. He's a litter box-trained English lop that Hannah bought after last year's fair.
“He likes being loved on,” she said. “He'll hop up on you.”
Melinda Gwynn smiles when her daughter explains the differences between rabbit breeds or explains the meaning of a name of chicken breed. She said she thinks her daughter's time in 4-H has helped her grow from a shy little girl into a confident public speaker.
Hannah said she would love to continue raising animals through her life and hopes her children will share in the same interest.
“I'd want my kids to grow up in 4-H,” she said.