Most students have spent the summer relaxing at home, quarantined because of the pandemic, without the responsibilities that a select group of students does.
They are the FFA students from the elementary to the high school level, and their summer projects are animals such as rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs, heifers, and steers.
Their animals are housed at the LFHS Ag Barn, and about 20-25 students have been going there seven days a week about twice a day since June.
"They have to have a strong year-round commitment," said Omar Gonzalez, the fourth-year LFHS Agriculture Science teacher. "Showing livestock is not just showing up on the day of the show and having them look pretty that day. You have to feed them, monitor their health, monitor their weight gain, and monitor their feed and water intake."
Gonzalez has been around livestock since he was a student at Lyford High School under well-known teacher Armando Correa, now the Executive Director of the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show.
Raising livestock is a family affair for dozens of families living in and around Los Fresnos for decades. Many have had several children go through the FFA program and attending livestock shows from elementary to high school. The monetary rewards for Grand Champions that culminates years of preparation can help pay for college.
Sophomore Naya Atkinson is the youngest of five children who has raised animals. Her father, James Randall Atkinson, did when he was an LFHS student in the late 1980s.
"Everyone was expecting me to raise animals, but I liked it too," said Naya, who has heifers and steers at the Ag Barn. "It's a routine now. You just do it every day. It's a lot of work."
Atkinson has shown animals at the San Antonio Livestock Show and Houston Livestock show. She has raised pigs, goats, and heifers. "It's a lot of work. I have never gotten worse than third place. This year, I'm going to win."
Some other students at the Ag Barn include:
- Senior Iris Lugo has raised animals for five years. Her goat Chuey is five months old. "They are high maintenance. You don't just feed them. You have to wash them and clean their cages they get dirty. We will work on the showmanship part later." Iris hopes to attend Texas State University and become a veterinarian but is looking at other options.
- Junior Nicole Garcia has been raising animals for two years. Her sheep is named Steve. "I feed them about 1.5 pounds twice a day about 10-12 hours apart. I walk them, run them, try to brace him, put him on a treadmill. I clean his pen every two weeks. Once a month, I clean his wool so he can look nice."
Freshman Elijah Moreno has been showing goats and pigs for four years. His current project is a 680-pound heifer that he named Corona after the Coronavirus. "She behaves pretty well, but there are days when she acts up. Now that's she's gotten better, I just come afternoons only.
Freshman Kyra Ruiz has been showing animals for two years. "I love animals. We have 10 chickens and two ducks at home. His name is Milo. We've had him since March. It will be my first show this year."
Kendra Reyes, a seventh-grade student at Resaca Middle School, started raising animals in the fourth grade by showing a pig. She now has a lamb named Herc, short for Hercules. "The lambs are less messy than the pigs. I'm glad we're here taking care of them because we had nothing to do in quarantine. I like being outside."
Jaden Castillo, a fifth-grade student at Lopez-Riggins Elementary, is the youngest of several siblings who have been showing animals for 20 years. "I had been showing pigs but asked my parents if I could show a steer, and they said OK. My two steers are named Aries and Hercules. They are a lot bigger than me, but we have a show stick in the ring and tap him on the nose. I'm getting him trained for that."
Olivia Lugo, a fifth-grade student at Lopez-Riggins Elementary, is the younger sister of senior Iris Lugo. She showed rabbits last year but will be showing her lamb named Hazel. "My mom will bring me over here before school to clean them and feed them. I hope that I continue doing this to high school."
All the work done by students would not be possible without the work and financial support of the parents.
"Parents are the driving force behind this," Gonzalez said. "If it weren't for parents and their time commitment, we wouldn't have a great program. Some of these animals go through $50-$60 of feed a week, and some more than that, depending on the size of the animal. Most of our parents have jobs. But they're out here spending time with their children and their animals."