Becoming a future farmer
A Future Farmers of America (FFA) member walks into the barn and is instantly met with the sounds of pigs squealing. He makes his way to the pig pen where he sees six piglets roaming around their pens. Bartts opens the pen and guides the pigs outside to give them their daily walks. As he walks the pigs, Barrts feels a strong sense of compassion and attachment for these six little pigs.
Junior Dyllan Bartts joined the organization while he was a sophomore and ever since then, his love for FFA has only grown. With a large interest in farm animals and agriculture, it wasn’t long before he became accustomed to farm work associated with FFA.
When Bartts first presented his pigs at talent shows or market events to sell them at an auction, he was filled with anxiety but his family helped him through his first presentation.
“My mom showed pigs in [her] high school so it kind of runs in my blood,” Bartts said. “When I joined last year, I started [to] show hogs too and my love for it just grew from there.”
The FFA members take care of a wide range of animals including lambs, heifers and pigs. FFA adviser Sydney Wallace helps her students by teaching them the basics on maintaining their animals properly.
“My job as the adviser is to facilitate each members’ learning,” Wallace said. “It is my role to provide the members with ample opportunities to branch out and learn. We try to organize events, provide support while they raise their animals and help prepare them for their competitions.”
Bartts isn’t the only member taking care of farm animals during his freetime. FFA member senior Noah Koscelnik takes care of pigs like Bartts and spends his free time making sure the animals are cared for.
“I’ve always been somewhat of a country boy so it just seemed natural that I join a club I was interested in,” Koscelnik said. “I got involved when Dylan Bartts, a close friend of mine, suggested I join because he knew how much I loved farm work and everything associated with it. Plus he wanted the both of us to join at the same time so I agreed and ever since then we have been working together to push each other to be better.”
The end goal for all of the farm animals is for the members to show them off at an auction and make a sale. This helps the students learn communication skills as well as agriculture from a business standpoint. When Bartts was told he would have to sell his pigs on the market to be slaughtered, he was upset but knew it was for the best for the community.
“When a student shows his/her animal they are given a premium price for their livestock animal,” Wallace said. “From there, the buyer can choose to put the animal on the truck to go to market or keep the animal. Sometimes a student raises a breeding animal. In that case, the animal returns to the breeder to produce more livestock.”
While Bartts is hesitant to see his pigs being sold to a butcher, but he knows what he has to do for the community as an FFA member.
“I’m going to be a little sad to sell my pigs off at an auction but I know that’s just how the business goes,” Bartts said. “It was kind of scary at first because I became like a dad to them. I had to take care of these animals and they [relied] on me for everything. However, after about two weeks, it becomes almost second nature. FFA is a lot of fun and it is kind of put on the back burner here at school, but I want people to know it is really fun to learn more about the field and agriculture.”
Showing with pride
Adrenaline floods her body, sending rushes of excitement, fear and nervousness to her brain as her name is announced. Two months of long hours at the barn and extensive preparation have led up to the first time senior Honor Nelson will ever show her lamb, Buddy, in front of a judge.
With a deep breath, she strides into the show ring with confidence, her lamb trotting happily by her side. A look of determination flashes across her face as she leads her lamb through the line of other showers in her class.
After what feels like an endless amount of time in the ring, the judges announce the winners. Nelson takes home first in her class, first in her breed and the Reserve Champion overall award.
Although this is Nelson’s first year in FFA, her passion and dedication has shown through her performance in the ring. At the Winter Buckle Holiday Classic on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, Nelson showed Buddy for the first time, taking home multiple awards.
“I had never done FFA or shown an animal before,” Nelson said. “I got in the show ring and I didn’t know what I was doing. I went in the show ring, relaxed and let him do his thing while I do mine. I had no idea what I was doing and I ended up [performing] amazingly.”
Nelson takes pride in her showmanship and enjoys the feeling of accomplishment she receives when winning an award, like she did at the Winter Buckle. The long hours Nelson spends at the barn with Buddy have resulted in high achievements for the pair.
“I wanted to have a nice experience and I ended up doing really good,” Nelson said. “It was an amazing feeling. I felt excited to show all the people [who came] all of my hard work. It pays off.”
The FFA advisers see and admire Nelson’s efforts to improve her performance skills. They applaud the time she spends outside of school because it truly makes a difference in how her animal performs.
“She spends a lot of time [with her lamb] and it shows when she’s in the show ring,” FFA adviser Sydney Wallace said. “Her animal works very well.”
The bond between a show animal and its owner is strengthened by the extensive time put into perfecting the performances together. Although a lamb may not be a traditional pet, the way their relationship functions is similar to the relationship a house pet has with its owner.
“[The bond is] special,” Nelson said. “It’s like having a dog pretty much, you just treat them differently. Once your animal gets to know you, the bond is pretty great. Like, once you show up at the barn, they get excited to see you.”
Wallace believes in encouraging her students while they pursue their goals. Although the students can achieve high goals on their own, the FFA advisers serve to reassure their students and enable them to perform to the best of their abilities with pride in the animal they’ve raised.
“[The best part of advising FFA is] giving the kids the confidence to get out there and do what they can,” Wallace said. “They’re all very capable; they just need somebody to say, ‘you can do it.’”
At the community night on Saturday, Feb. 23, Nelson and her classmates demonstrated to the community what they do for an extracurricular activity. They also showcased their efforts to friends and family throughout the day.
“All of our kids [had] the opportunity to show their animal in front of a judge,” Wallace said. “We [wanted] people to come out and watch and support our kids. Marcus [brought] their Circle of Friends buddies and [provided] opportunities to show for them. [Guests looked] around the barn and saw our projects everybody has put time into.”
FFA students’ efforts are evident when they show their animal in the ring. Their showmanship comes as a result of working their animal over long periods of time at the barn.
“I am proud because the kids that have animal projects go out there every morning and every night,” FFA adviser Ashley Riley said. “It’s not just dropping feed and leaving; they spend a lot of time and dedication with their animals. A lot of times it really shows in the show ring [because the students] have a glow and confidence about them whenever they’re out there.”
Coaching the pigs
Slowly, she opens a gate and ushers the pig inside the pen. There, her eyes survey the barn to see if any other animals need her attention. When she knows the animals are good, she is ready to relax after a long day of hard work.
Junior Briauna Gutierrez has been a member of FFA for two years and her main focus is to take care of swines because she has more knowledge on taking care of them than any other animal.
“I started FFA last year [and] I [started out] with pigs,” Gutierrez said. “[They’re] very time consuming [and] when they’re hungry they’re going to push you a little bit to hurry up with their food.”
As Reporter for FFA, Gutierrez manages the program’s social media. Other than managing the social media, she keeps herself busy by caring for the animals she is assigned to take care of. She also tends to the animals of her fellow members if called for.“[I] feed [the swines] twice a day, once in the morning and once after school,” Gutierrez said. “[I] have to walk them at least 10 minutes a day [and] clean up their pens and give them baths.”
Gutierrez also teaches the pigs how to walk and act so they can act properly when they are shown. By doing so, the possibility of someone buying the pig increases. The process of selling the animals includes an auction where people place bids to purchase her livestock.
“You walk them with a whip [and] just tap them on the sides and that’s how they learn how to walk,” Gutierrez said. “It’s different [because] I [tend to] horses too. [And] it’s a different [experience] from having a pig.”
FFA adviser Ashley Riley has formed a bond with Gutierrez and has helped her in the program. During her time in FFA, Riley helps Gutierrez in agricultural science and guides her in her studies as well.
“I have helped Briauna experience other parts the FFA organization has to offer,” Riley said. “Briauna was on the senior quiz team and went to different contests. This was a first for her. I am also Briauna’s teacher and adviser for her pigs [and] I help her with walking, feeding, [and teaching] how to show [them]. We practice at our barn.”
Junior FFA member Dylan Bartts helps Gutierrez by providing her a hand with caring for her animals. Bartts and Gutierrez met through FFA and have formed a strong friendship during their time in the program.
“I’ve helped her [out] with her pigs [and] we’ve gone to shows together,” Bartts said. “[One thing] I’ve learned from her [is] just because you’re going through issues doesn’t mean you can’t be there for someone.”
By joining FFA, Gutierrez’ passion for caring for animals has grown. She’s learned how to take care of animals and how to handle them more efficiently.
“Patience [is important because] it takes a while for [swines] to learn [and] teach them how to walk,” Gutierrez said. “The experience [in FFA] is fun and there’s a lot of people to meet, [the] stock shows are fun, and the experience is fun.”