Submitted by Denair High School
The Stanislaus County Fair opened Friday, but the preparations by 28 Denair High School FFA students began much, much earlier. Animals were bought and trained, and metal and wood projects were designed and crafted.
And even before fair officials swung open their gates for the 105th time, some of the Denair contingent already had collected ribbons.
Because there is not enough space in the crowded livestock areas, judging of goats, sheep, cows and other animals began as early as July 6.
Chris Galhano’s ewe was selected Reserve Supreme Champion, the second-highest award in the sheep category. Similarly, Tristan Haile’s Hampshire/Suffolk lamb finished second, the first of six animals she will show before the fair ends. Denair’s FFA Market Goat Group (Markus Rocha, Courtney Prock, Kelsey Park, Cierra Rodriguez and Hector Obando) was second out of 15 clubs in the Chapter Group competition.
Markus Rocha was second in advanced showmanship with his goat, qualifying him for the master showmanship finals. He also had the Reserve Junior Buck and make it to the FFA Market Goat Champion Drive with his entry.
Rocha also was among a high-achieving group of Coyotes who excelled in projects. His barrel barbecue won a blue ribbon, as did an impressive 12-foot barbecue on a trailer that Joey Freitas built for the Denair Lions Club. Beau Carli’s large orchard float was one of five Best in Show awards for ag mechanics. Other winners were Bryson Prock for his skillful refurbishment of an antique trailer and Galhano for his large entertainment center made of knotty alder. Abi Dirkse earned second place for her wooden potting table.
“For a small school, we are extremely competitive,” said ag teacher Matthew Marshall, who joined the Denair High staff just in time for the 2015 county fair.
This year, Marshall and fellow first-year ag teacher Madison Weigel had much more opportunity to interact with their students to help them imagine and then create their projects. In all, Denair’s FFA members totaled more than 50 entries to the fair, capping a year of renewed enthusiasm and new energy for the school’s ag program.
“We’re still growing our program, but we’re definitely heading in the right direction,” Marshall said. “We were just getting started last year. We have more dairy entries this summer, which reflects our community’s area of influence among our students.”
Early in the 10-day fair, the emphasis is on breeding animals, whether goats, sheep or cattle. After the first weekend, those animals will have been judged and returned to their ranches and farms to make way for market livestock, which soon will be slaughtered and turned into meat.
Denair students and their animals actually began arriving July 5. Wednesday, two days before the fair opened to the public, the pens and barns were a beehive of activity. Some animals rested quietly, their owners never too far away. Others were being groomed or put through one last practice session. Those students from more than two dozen campuses whose animals were to be judged first were easy to spot. All had on their traditional white FFA pants and blue jackets with their school names on the back.
Haile, who graduated from Denair High in May, spent about 15 minutes in the ring with 7½-month-old Coco competing against three other sheep. She lives on a 600-acre ranch with her family, her nine ewes and two rams. Since late March, she has tried to spend an hour a day training each of her six fair entries. And after five years showing pigs and sheep, Haile has come to one definitive conclusion.
“Pigs are a lot smarter,” she said. “Sheep learn routines, but pigs can change and adapt to what happens during the competition.”
Haile will attend Modesto Junior College this fall with a goal of transferring in two years to Cal-Poly, San Luis Obispo as an animal science major. She wants to be a large-animal pharmacist.
Like Haile, Rocha graduated this year and is a veteran of multiple competitions. In June, he joined Marshall and two others on a 26-hour road trip to the national goat show in Nebraska. They hauled 34 goats in a two-tiered trailer behind their extended cab pickup. Rocha showed nine goats and, out of more than 120 entries, finished sixth in the country with his buck and 12th with a doe.
The 7-month-old female, Rudy Katie, also was among Rocha’s fair entries. He got her in March when she was about 40 pounds and still needed to be bottle fed. Training began not long after. Rocha credits the Hobby family of Hughson with getting him interested in goats and then mentoring him on the finer aspects of competition.
“The No. 1 thing they told me is that showmanship isn’t won in the ring, it’s won at home,” he said. “It’s practice, practice, practice.”
Rocha will attend Merced College this fall, then hopes to go to Fresno State. His goal is to get his master’s degree in animal science, then begin a career in artificial insemination and embryo transfer in cows and goats.
Haile, Rocha and other recent graduates can remain a part of the Denair High FFA program through their freshmen years in college, Marshall said. Every student who takes an ag class automatically becomes an FFA member. The fair, he said, is one of the most anticipated events on the calendar, along with the FFA Leadership Conference each April in Fresno.
“With the fair, it’s a lot like cooking,” Marshall explained. “Cleaning, cleaning, prep, prep. You’re waiting and waiting, and then you get your 15 minutes in the ring.”