SELMA – With The Big Fresno Fair set for Oct. 2-14, local students are gearing up to exhibit everything from art and industry projects in the Junior Exhibits building to animals and 4-H projects in the Livestock Pavilion.

Selma High hosted its third annual Raisin Round Up on Sept. 28 to give Future Farmers of America students practice showing steer, sheep and swine for the judging that will soon take place.

“The Fair can be overwhelming so here it’s nice to get a little taste for what they’re going to see up there, especially our new kids,” one of Selma High’s agriculture teachers Grace Mendes said.

The livestock competitions are Oct. 9 and Oct. 10 with an auction taking place Oct. 12. For a complete schedule of the livestock exhibits, showmanship, shows and auctions, log on to http://bit.ly/2nUkDTX and see pages 5-6 of The Big Fresno Fair’s 2019 Livestock Handbook.

Mendes said a Fresno State judge even came up for the Raisin Round Up to give students feedback before heading to the fair.

Students showed sheep, hogs and a steer that morning but they’d been preparing since the end of the previous school year for this event. Breeding animals from SHS will also be on display at the fair.

“They’re fed very specific diets, exercised daily and trained in showmanship techniques using the newest techniques and really keeping in mind animal welfare,” Mendes said. “They are not pets but they are pampered, I’ll tell you that, very much pampered.”

Mendes has been showing animals herself since she was 9 years old and teaching for 12, with seven of those at Selma High. The process of raising the animals for competitions has remained steady, but technology has helped improve communication.

“Communication is much more regular now because of technology. They can text me and text pictures so we’re in constant communication.”

Even more Selma High students will have horticulture and ag mechanics projects on display at the Fair and others in the arts classes will have their works displayed as well.

“I took floral up earlier in the week and we have a garden display up there in the Grain House building,” she said.

Senior Oceana Cousins was among students showing animals at the Raisin Round Up. Her Hampshire cross lamb is named Mushu after the dragon in the Disney “Mulan” movie. All the lambs have been given Disney-themed names this school year, she said.

It’s her third year of showing sheep and her fourth in FFA. So far, Cousins said working closely with the animals to earn their trust has been rewarding.

“It’s a whole learning experience. It’s normally the first or second week of summer that we get them and it takes a lot of time. We have to work with them, grow a bond with them and break them in where they get used to a halter. We have to get them used to us.”

As fair time approaches, sometimes the animals get antsy she said, but when it comes time for the competitions, all the training pays off.

“The second you get into the arena, it’s as if you both know. They work with you if you work with them. You have to maintain a cool and steady attitude. They can read your pulse because you’re holding them and very close to them, just like how you read a person’s pulse. They can feel your pulse on their head. So if you’re calm, they’ll be calm.”

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Cousins said aside from learning how to care for their animals, the students learn to work together, business skills and time management to be there early and late, twice each day for four months to care for their projects.

“It’s our entire team and on days like these for Raisin Round Up, we come even earlier. This morning, me and my other team members were here by 5:30 in the morning.”

They’ll show their projects Oct. 9-10 and then have an auction Oct. 12. That can be a day filled with mixed emotions, she admits.

“You’re excited because you’re learning the business side of it, but you know from the start these are market animals. You’re not able to keep them. The whole point is they’re bred specifically for their meat. You grow a bond with them so it’s really hard to let go of that, but in the end, it’s all worth it. It’s a whole learning experience that I wish more people were open to learning.”

Cousins said her goal is to become a veterinarian so having this hands-on experience now will definitely pay off later as she pursues her education and then career.

She also encourages fair-goers of all ages to come through the exhibits and feel free to ask questions.

“As an FFA student, we want to be asked questions because we get to share what we’ve learned and that gets us excited. We can share our knowledge with other people, help them grow and see that what we’re doing is a good thing. It’s heartwarming when we get to share that with someone else.”

California State University Fresno senior Josie Woodcock helped the students prepare by judging their projects at the Raisin Round Up. She agreed that the FFA experience can help students prepare not only for college in developing their work ethic, but also lead to a career.

“I help them with their presentation of the animal and what type of questions they’re expected to be able to answer either from the public or from the judge in a market class. These animals are potentially for somebody to consume so they need to know the meat’s background and what they’re doing this project for.”

For fair-goers, Woodcock encourages residents to check out the students work that’s been months in the making.

“These kids care. The animals that are going to market have been taken of and have had a respectful and good life. These kids work really hard with the animals and it makes them a better individual when they go out to the work world. It gives them an idea of what kind of career they want to go into.”

Woodcock herself has shown everything from rabbits and chickens to goat, sheep, hogs, breeding cattle and steer and is looking to enter the field of quality assurance for the meats industry.

“Sometimes your projects also put money into your future for your college education. That’s something my parents would do. They’d put some of my project money into my college funds. So it’s working toward your future so you can be a better a citizen.”

Having this responsibility also increases a student’s college and work ethic, she said.

“You have so many kids who show up late to college classes. In my mind, I’m like how can you show up late? I know these ag kids are up early and are working hard. It takes a lot of work to be here to set up their animals, so this teaches them life skills. And you make memories while you do it with friends and family. It’s something everybody should a part of.”

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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