HARLINGEN — Orion Macias led his hog around the arena, gently tapping its front with a show stick.
Orion, 16, was walking his female light cross breed hog at the Harlingen Ag Farm along with dozens of other agriculture science students. Many of them were preparing for the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show, beginning Friday and running through March 20.
“I’m pretty nervous but very excited at the same time,” said Orion, a junior at Harlingen High School and member of Harlingen FFA, which has 86 students.
The Junior FFA is made up of 26 students from several elementary schools and middle schools. A total of 66 students from both clubs will show their animals, including all 26 from the Junior FFA. The Harlingen South FFA also is participating in the livestock show in Mercedes.
Daniel Castillo, a junior at Harlingen High School South, is preparing to show his heifer, lamb and hog.
“It’s kind of stressful,” said Daniel, 17. “There’s a lot of taking them walking every day, making sure they will do well.”
Daniel, vice president of the Harlingen South FFA, is focusing most of his time on the lamb. It’s been winning the most at other livestock shows. Nevertheless, the livestock show in Mercedes is the big leagues.
“It’s huge, it’s big,” he said. “I am hopeful we will come out victorious.”
The RGVLS is Harlingen South’s main livestock show event of the year, said Roxanne Salinas, Harlingen South FFA advisor and Ag science teacher.
Her FFA chapter is taking 55 members to the livestock show. They have entries for various livestock categories, as well as shop projects, horticulture projects and photography.
“The kids are working extremely hard,” Salinas said.
“These are our long nights when the kids are trying to walk their animals every day and grooming them and getting them ready to take to Mercedes.”
Students from the Harlingen FFA will show heifers, goats, hogs, rabbits and chickens. They’ll also submit projects in the horticulture, photography and shop divisions.
The Ag Farm at Primera and Hand roads last week was filled with the clanking of metal rails, bleating goats and soft brushing as students groomed their animals. Somewhere, the sudden rush of water signaled someone washing down an animal. Everyone seemed eager to work with their animals as the livestock show approached.
Orion has spent the past few months feeding his hog at about 6:30 a.m., exercising her to build muscle and teaching her how to walk and stand at the livestock show. All the students showing pigs and other livestock have been following basically the same regimen for several months. There are, of course, some variations according to the needs of the animal and whether the student is showing heifers, goats or chickens.
That said, they’ve had to discipline themselves to wake up early to go feed their animals. They have to monitor the feed depending on whether the animals need more fat or muscle, and they have to walk them — every day.
For some students, it’s a whole new experience. For others it’s a lifestyle. Either way, the program teaches discipline and responsibility, said Todd Cash, ag science teacher at Harlingen High School.
“They are responsible for the care of these animals, the care, the watering, the feeding,” said Cash, who is also an advisor to the school’s FFA.
“It teaches them commitment,” he said. “They have to be committed to following through.”
He always emphasizes that students and parents must make sure they can afford to raise an animal for FFA. The price of feed, health care and transportation can be expensive.
“It’s not fair to the animal to make a commitment and then stop halfway through,” he said.
Many students have demonstrated repeated commitment in the past several years.
“I’ve shown pigs for the past eight years,” said Kennedy Boykin, 16, who is showing four pigs.
The livestock show is sort of a tradition in her family. Her father was very active in livestock shows when he was in high school, as was her sister more recently.
“I have done pretty good,” said Kennedy, a Harlingen High School junior.
She recalled one year recently when she won Reserve Grand Champion. At the San Antonio Stock and Rodeo Show she won second in her class.
This year, for the first time, she’s also showing chickens.
“I wanted to try something new,” said Kennedy, who also is the president of the Harlingen FFA.
“There’s no expectations,” she said. “I guess we will see how it goes at the show.”
Last Thursday afternoon she was busy with her hogs, grooming them and pointing out which are cooperative. One was very passive, while another was more temperamental. She’d spent so much time with them, apparently, she knew their personalities.
She tends to a long list of tasks to prepare them for the livestock show, but she takes it all in stride.
“I just feed them,” she said. “I walk them every day.”
Students generally appear to have plenty of work to do with one animal. However, Kennedy, like many students who have been in the livestock show for several years, has learned how to divide her time between several animals. Showing several hogs increases her chances of winning, she said. She spends between 15 and 30 minutes a day with each animal.
Orion is pretty fond of winning, too. He only began raising show animals last year.
“I won first in my class and also Reserve Breed Champion,” he said, adding he’d received $3,000. He was hoping to make a little more this year.
The walk around the arena was over, and he brought his hog in and sprayed her down with a gentle flow of water. The hog seemed to enjoy the shower as it rolled on the ground.
“I’m ready to take this pig,” Orion said, referring to his being prepared for the show.
His friend Roddy Ramon, 16, is getting ready to show his Duroc hog, which must weigh in between 220 and 280 pounds the day of the show. He’s working to increase his hog’s weight to 275 pounds.
“This is my first year to show agriculture animals,” said Roddy, a sophomore. “Mr. Cash, he said to start out with a Duroc. They are pretty easy. I like coming out here instead of being home and being lazy.”
Abigail Lamas, 13, dashed around with an almost frenzied energy as she worked with her two hogs, a Duroc and a Hampshire.
“What have I been doing to get them ready?” she said thoughtfully. Then, considering her answer, she explained how she taps her hogs under the snout to get them to pick their heads up. This posture provides a better appearance before the judges.
She’s also monitoring the animals’ weight.
“If they have low weight, I give them more feed and I walk them better,” said the Gutierrez Middle School seventh grader.
Cash said Abigail is also a member of the Harlingen FFA. Students from grades three to 12 can join either the Harlingen FFA or the Harlingen South FFA.
Abigail’s Hampshire seemed to have presented her with some challenges.
“I take it on long walks to give my Hampshire the muscle, because her butt needs a lot of muscle,” Abigail said.
As she went into detail about building up a hog’s musculature, it became obvious she has an extensive knowledge of the subject. Not surprising, since she’s been in livestock shows since the third grade.
Although she regarded livestock shows with great zest, she also gave another reason for her continued participation. Her sister, who recently graduated from high school, was active in livestock shows for years.
“I want to follow in her footsteps,” she said.
The students appear to be following in many footsteps, those of passion for their projects, belief in what they’re doing and appreciation for the discipline they’ve developed while caring for the animals.
They’re walking in the footsteps of gratitude for the foundation it’s laid for a productive future, and in the paths of winners.
– Goats are purchased in July and August.
– Hogs are purchased in October and November.
– Chickens and rabbits are purchased in February.
– Heifers can actually be purchased all year round. However, if purchasing for the livestock show the following March, it can be acquired either in late spring or early summer. They can also be purchased in October.