For a lot of people, January is a chance to catch your breath after the holiday hustle.
For Shaye Ann Atwood and the Mansfield FFA, it’s the beginning of their busiest time of the year – show season.
“When we come back from Christmas break, we don’t really stop showing until the middle of March at Spring Break,” said Atwood, who is the Agriculture Coordinator for the Mansfield ISD and principal of the Jerry Knight STEM Academy.
The Mansfield ISD has students showing at the Fort Worth Stock Show, San Angelo Stock Show, Rodeo Austin Livestock Show, San Antonio Stock Show, Houston Livestock Show and the Tarrant County Junior Livestock Show, said James Willson, a Mansfield ISD agriculture teacher who oversees the Ron Whitson Agricultural Science Center.
Mansfield, once known for the Kow Bell Indoor Rodeo, traditionally had a strong and enthusiastic FFA program. With the influx of new residents and expansion of the school district, the numbers had fallen.
“When I started in Mansfield 10 years ago, I think we maybe had 75 in FFA and not all of those showed animals,” Atwood said. “It has just exploded.”
Mansfield ISD now boasts 300 students in FFA, and 1,200 in agriculture classes throughout the district, she said. Eighty percent of the FFA members will show an animal, Atwood said, including chickens, goats, rabbits, turkeys, lambs, pigs, heifers and steers.
The Mansfield FFA will take more than 200 animals to the Fort Worth Stock Show, which runs Jan. 12-Feb. 3 at the Will Rogers Memorial Center.
“We’ve got every animal that you can show, except llamas,” Willson said.
Showing an animal is not to be taken lightly, Atwood said.
“We have a big informational meeting for those who have not done it before,” she said. “We tell them you are not going to make money. The families come out to barn together and spend time together. You hope to make enough money to buy an animal for the next year.”
Some of the students are able to keep their animals at their homes, but others keep them at the Ron Whitson Agricultural Science Center, a Mansfield ISD arena and a pair of 10,000-square-foot barns with pens for animals.
“They’re out here at 5 a.m., feeding the animals and then they have to be at school by 7 a.m.,” Atwood said. “Then they feed again in the evening.”
High school juniors can participate in the calf scramble at the Fort Worth Stock Show, where they compete against other students to grab and tie up one of the calves turned loose in the rodeo arena. If they are successful, they receive money toward buying a calf for the next year.
“It helps every kid find a niche, a place they feel connected,” Atwood said. “When they’re involved, their grades are better and they don’t get into trouble. If they don’t pass, they don’t show. We have had that happen.”
Atwood and her husband showed animals with the FFA when they were in school, she said, just as her three young sons are doing.
“It’s something my husband and I don’t regret giving them,” she said. “My fourth-grade son is showing heifers, my middle son has a heifer. He’s in the second grade. My youngest is 4 and he’ll be showing just like the rest of them. This is our thing. It’s part of our daily routine.”
Kolbey Florence, a 15-year-old freshman at Mansfield Legacy High School, began showing a year ago, and now has nine pigs. She plans to show at Fort Worth, San Angelo, San Antonio, Tarrant County and Houston. Florence shows gilts (female pigs that have not given birth) and barrows (castrated male pigs).
“I learned a lot of responsibility,” she said. “I learned to trust my animal. I learned to be partners with my animal.”
Barrow pigs are sold after the show for slaughter, something that was difficult for Florence.
“The first one was hard,” she said. “I tried to jump out of the truck and get him. It’s hard. You have them for about nine months, so you get really attached.”
Sophia Patterson, a 16-year-old junior at Mansfield Legacy High School, has grown a lot in the three years that she has shown Shorthorn heifers.
“Mostly responsibility,” she said. “A lot of days I’m tired and don’t want to come to the barn. But it’s not really a choice. It’s a lot of work and you definitely need to know what you’re getting into. It’s definitely worth it.”
Sophia’s mom, Denise Patterson, agreed.
“She has learned life lessons,” Patterson said. “She’s been more outgoing, talking to adults. Studying for LDE (Leadership Development Events in FFA) has helped her study. Her grades are amazing. She is so competitive.”