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Boys Ranch youth preparing show animals to kick off busy fair season

Boys Ranch youth preparing show animals to kick off busy fair season

With our boys and girls back from Christmas home visits and once again settling into their school routines, nearly two dozen youth involved with Future Farmers of America are diligently preparing their livestock for show time.

FFA members begin competition with their animals tomorrow at the Oldham County Fair. In the coming months, they’ll follow up with competitions at the Tri-State Fair in Amarillo, Texas, the Fort Worth Stock Show and the Houston Livestock Show.

And, this show season marks an incredible milestone for FFA itself, celebrating 50 years of girls participating in the organization.

Boys Ranch FFA members Makenna, 16, and Avery, 15, were surprised to realize young ladies hadn’t always taken part in something each of them dearly loves.

“That’s crazy!,” Makenna said. “Fifty years seems like a long time, but it really wasn’t that long ago.”

Avery agreed, “I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t be in FFA. I love FFA, and it keeps me busy!”

This year, an almost equal number of young ladies as young men from Boys Ranch participated in FFA. Together, they comprise some 60 Boys Ranch chapter members. However, due to the limited space and resources for show animals in their current Boys Ranch barn, each child interested in showing an animal was asked to apply to have an FFA animal project. After the applicants were reviewed, 20 were chosen to show.

“This is my last year here, and I just really wanted to experience something like this,” said Kenny, 18, who said he’d had no experience with animals prior to joining FFA this school year.

This season certainly has him venturing into new territory before he graduates this May. Prior to the school year, Kenny excelled in the Boys Ranch Experiential Learning Program, learning technology skills like filming campus activities via remotely operated drone aircraft. Between new-world and old-world fields of learning, Kenny will have quite the education under his belt when he crosses the graduation stage!

While all of our young people are excited for the upcoming season, they know participating in FFA is a big commitment.

Each youth must have the financial resources in order to purchase his or her animal. Those who participated in FFA typically have the necessary funds from selling their previous animal to reinvest in a new animal this year. New members like Kenny can apply to borrow the funds for their first animal. It’s a process involved in teaching Boys Ranch youth the fiscal responsibilities involved in the farming and ranching fields.

Youth must keep accurate records of the costs and any earnings associated with competitions and the sale of their animal. At the end of the season, each rancher saves the majority of whatever they earn into a savings account they’ll take with them whenever they leave Boys Ranch.

Once the animal arrives, the fun — and the real hard work — begin!

Last fall, new show pigs, lambs and goats began arriving on ranch. Since then, Boys Ranch FFA members have been busy in the barn exercising their animals, spending time gentling and getting to know them. They’ve handled the chores and pen cleaning that comes with having responsibility for raising an animal.

It’s been quite the learning experience!

“Pigs are like dogs. They snuggle. They love belly and ear scratches,” explained Avery who is looking forwarding to her first year showing her pig, which she jokingly nicknamed Jimmie Dean. “They have a great personality. They learn very fast. My pig knows my voice.”

For her part, second-year FFA participant Makenna said she’s looking forward to applying everything she learned last year to this year’s pig.

“I think the experience will be a huge help this year,” she said. “I’m going to spend a whole lot more time down here working with Waddles.”

Scotty Wright, Boys Ranch High School FFA adviser and vocational agriculture teacher, affirmed Makenna, Avery and their peers have surely put in the necessary work with their animals.

“They condition their pigs every day, make them look pretty, keep their skin clean,” he said. “They feed and exercise the pigs, with the goal being for some of the pigs to gain up to three pounds per day.”

While caring for their animals, youth also learn empathy, patience and impulse control. This is particularly important for Boys Ranch youth, who gain the confidence and self-discipline to handle other responsibilities that may come their way.

Interacting with their animals also has many emotional benefits, like helping reduce stress and anxiety.

In the end, youth walk away with a valuable life experience that imparts heritage, hard work and enrichment.

“Caring for animals is much harder than most people think,” Wright said. “The main thing they learn is responsibility.”

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