Colton Jackson’s Angus steer, Mater, likes to kick him.
“They’re a lot of fun, but you start hating them when they kick you,” he said.
Jackson and six other students from Jadee Rohner’s agricultural science classes sat in a semicircle outside a 4-H community meeting to dish about their animal projects. The students participate in the FFA (formerly known as Future Farmers of America) and 4-H market animal programs.
By raising an animal, such as Jackson’s steer, the students learn the art of animal husbandry. Keeping all receipts for purchases of feed, cleaning supplies and veterinary bills, then auctioning off their animal at the county fair, the students learn how to raise market stock for food.
But animals can’t help but show their personalities.
“My goat is not smart,” said Rockell Schmidt.
“My goat is loud — she screams,” said Briana Aguirre. “My mom makes me go out and read. She sits on my lap while I’m in my lawn chair.”
Some of the students, like Aguirre, live in areas zoned for livestock, while others raised their animals in the new high school agricultural building.
On any given day, visitors to Rohner’s corner of Payson High School (PHS) may see Schmidt and fellow classmates’ goats and Amy Korth’s gentle giant of an Angus steer, Paco.
“I can lead him through a classroom,” said Korth.
But that can be fraught with danger. One day, Paco decided he needed to relieve himself. All Korth could do was wait, then pull out the mop and bucket to clean up the mess.
Raising stock is a 24-hour, seven day a week commitment. The long hours of feeding, cleaning and show presentation ultimately take their toll.
Korth loves her bull, but created a countdown clock on her phone. At the time of the interview, it showed 32 days, 18 hours, 22 minutes, and the seconds kept rolling.
“All this money goes into him, and he’s pooping in my backyard,” said Jackson of his steer.
In the end, the process teaches the students it is a business. They keep all receipts and a log on their animal.
Korth: “It’s hard to keep all the receipts.”
Schmidt: “You have to buy leashes and bowls.”
“You have to (account for) gifts,” said Jackson, “My vet does things for free because it’s FFA, then I have to guess at the price.”
Raising an animal requires a group effort. The students attend outside meetings and learn information from local experts in ranching. In order to gain credit, they must attend 75 percent of the FFA and 4-H meetings, besides classes with Rohner.
The process of raising their animal teaches students the connectedness of everything, such as how a drought affects feed prices.
“This year, the drought affected feed prices,” said Jackson. “It went from 22 cents a pound to 26.”
Korth and Jackson noticed a few hundred dollars difference in how much it cost to raise an animal last year vs. this. They hope to regain their out of pocket expense during the Northern Gila County Fair scheduled for Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 7-9.
The students pack up their animals, brushes, leashes and log books to show off their animals in the ring, then auction them off to a buyer.
The fair will take up much of their time. The students will sleep with their animals, wash them, clip and shave them, and preen them for presentation.
Already the kids have consulted with judges to find out what pleases.
“When my goat stops walking, I have to make sure I move her feet apart because she presses them close together,” said Schmidt.
The judges also make the students understand the best weight for their animals, too much and they look out of balance, too little and they look emaciated.
The junior ranchers must also groom their animals.
“Some judges like a more natural look, some want more shaving,” said Aguirre.
“Some get split ends,” said Caleb Burket who raises a pig named Big Mama. He uses baby oil to make her skin and coat shine.
Rohner had the students attend a showmanship clinic to figure out how best to present their animals, but the preparation for showing them in the ring started months before.
“You have to have them trust you by working with them and taking care of them,” said Burket.
Already the students have sent out letters to people they believe will want to purchase their animals at auction. At the fair, the students host a pre-auction Buyers Dinner to meet potential bidders and answer any questions about their animal.
The whole process is bittersweet for the kids. They appreciate the uniqueness of their animals, but like any parent, they are ready for their ward to move on.
“They’re like two-year-olds, but weigh 1,200 pounds,” said Jackson.