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Showtime at the fair

FFA kids keep agricultural tradition alive at Gold Country Fair
By: Cheri March The News Messenger
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Wool was flying at the Gold Country Fair’s animal pens last week as competitors hurriedly shampooed and sheared their sheep in the countdown to show time. But Garrett Adair, a 15-year-old Lincoln High School student and member of Lincoln’s Future Farmers of America, wasn’t overly nervous as he clipped his nameless lamb. “This is my second year. Last fair, I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. In the end, Adair didn’t leave the ring with a ribbon, but with the conviction he’d be back next year, hopefully with a more-trainable sheep. “I have to spend a lot of time with the next one – but I’m still not naming it,” he said. Last year, Adair’s lamb, Chops, practically trained himself, following Adair around like a dog as the high school sophomore rode his horse. “I was attached to Chops,” Adair said. “I was sad to let him go – he was a cool lamb. With this one, I didn’t really care.” The family’s neighbor ended up purchasing Chops at the Placer County Fair last year, said his mother, Leeanne Adair. “They had a barbecue and invited us, so we had Chops for dinner,” she said. “And as lamb sausage and lamb jerky.” Though it might sound somewhat tragic, it’s one of the realities of the business. Raising show animals takes sacrifice and a lot of hard work, said Cassandra Walker, an agriculture teacher at Lincoln High School. “People think of it as just farming, but it’s actually leadership – the fair is just a part of it,” Walker said. “(FFA) teaches them to be responsible for something other than themselves. They get up every day, they feed animals and take care of them – they know how to put their animals before or right after themselves.” “You can’t have much of a social life,” agreed 16-year-old Melanie Benjamin, who balances FFA with school and volleyball. “It’s really time-consuming.” Benjamin, a Lincoln High School junior and longtime FFA member, took home her class’s showmanship award, as well as Grand Champion for her market steer – her fourth straight champion win. “I like the cows,” she said. “To me, they have the most personality. I tried sheep and I just didn’t like them as much. I got a heifer, then a steer, and it just grew from there.” Barbie, her market heifer, is a drama queen, she said. Flash is a loveable but large – 1,336 pounds, to be precise – steer. She’s still getting to know Linus, the offspring of last year’s cow, “but he’s a nice little steer,” she said. “Cows are the most fun, but they’re also the hardest,” Benjamin said. “They can be hard to handle, it takes them a while to get used to you. I feed them twice a day, wash them a lot and rinse them every night.” Cows are also pricey. Last year, Benjamin was lucky to get $9 a pound for her market steer, but steers usually bring in just $2.50-$3 a pound – nowhere near the cost of purchasing and raising the animals. “I don’t make much, but mostly I do it for fun,” she said. “A lot of my friends are doing this now, and my dad helps me a lot – it’s our father-daughter thing.” Garrett Adair described a similar motivation. “Raising the animals is fun, showing is fun,” he said. “It’s a good way to make new friends.” And it’s why he’ll be back next time. “I’ll get a new sheep two or three months before the next fair, and I’ll be back to doing the same thing all over again,” he said.