Livestock—not just a man's game

Richard Zowie/The Highlander

Holly Atkinson, an outstanding Marble Falls FFA member, will show sheep at the Burnet County Livestock Show in Burnet Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 4-6.  She will be among more than 200 FFA and 4-H youth stock raisers taking part.

By Glynis Crawford Smith and Richard Zowie

The Highlander

If you think it will be only fellas showing poultry, rabbits, cattle, sheep, goats and swine at the 2018 Burnet County Livestock Show this weekend, think again.

On a chilly December morning last week, it was four gals feeding stock out at the Marble Falls High School agriculture education barns and they are ready for the show.

The event will take place Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 4-6, at the Burnet County Fairgrounds, 1208 Houston Clinton Drive in Burnet. And, you may see about as many females as males representing the FFA and 4-H chapters in the county.

On this morning, Amber Fern was wrangling a steer and Holly Atkinson was readying sheep for the show. Both girls are senior students and both, a source of pride to their agriculture instructor, Mike Rempe.

Rempe was out the barns, too, providing chauffeur service for his own daughters—Grace, a 14-year-old freshman, and Maggie, an 11-year-old middle schooler—who are following in the footsteps of their mother, Lori, showing swine at a stock show.

Rempe said he was not just proud of the seniors from his classes for their work with livestock. They shine as members of the FFA as well. Holly was a gold medal winner in FFA landscape nationals in 2016 and last year earned her Lone Star Degree, in addition to being part of a team of state competitors in career development.

Amber is one of the hardest working FFA members, according to Rempe, and she admitted livestock are a lot of work.

“You do it almost for a whole year,” she said. “It’s a lot of time and money. You have to halter break them, feed them special feed so they gain weight like they should.”

There are rewards, too, though.

“Steers have a lot of personality,” she said. “They’re very personable. They like people, once they’re halter broke. They are loving animals and very fun, much nicer than bulls.”

Thursday morning, Dec. 28, she was working with her Charolais named Rouille, named after a creamy sauce from his native France.

“Steers are raised for beef,” Amber explained. “When you’re finished and put them on the trailer, you cry for about an hour and then move onto the next animal.”

Holly said sheep are hard work too as she led Redbud out for his important daily walk and run. His full name is Cercis Eastern Redbud after her favorite variety of the spring-blooming tree.

“It’s important that sheep get clipped,” said Holly. “You put a lot of money and time into a sheep for a short moment of glory, but it’s fun.”

The Rempe girls have just about grown up with show animals and, while both say they had loads of time for other school activities and sports, they agree about the work.

“We kind of go in morning to feed them and then in the afternoon we usually stay about two hours after school get them out and let them get some exercise,” said Maggie, a member of Junior FFA, who has her fingers crossed for Mocha and Lia, the swine she is showing this weekend.

“I'm showing Durocs but the breed I started with when I was in the first grade was a cross/Blue Butt,” she said. “She got grand champion. She was my favorite pig.”

“I've been showing eight years,” said Grace. “I've shown chickens, sheep and goats, but I started with swine.”

This year, she has a crossbreed market swine, Brandy, that weighs in at about 250 pounds that stands a chance of matching the grand championship she took last year and a Hampshire breeding gilt named Arrow. Winning would be great but, no matter the outcome, she has the satisfaction of the work to develop and train the animals.

“They aren't that hard to manage,” she said. “You train them with whips, like race horses (in dressage). “To get them to turn, you tap their faces. They're pretty tame and pretty smart. They grunt at you and talk to you.”

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