So much for one local record this week as FFA and 4-H leaders gathered Tuesday at the Sheriff’s Posse grounds to pool entries for the Johnson County Junior Livestock Show.

A grand total of 141 Cleburne High students ­are entered in 290 events. That translates to more than $3,000 in entry fees.

The numbers are all-time highs for CHS.

“Many of the students have multiple projects,” said Barney McClure, CHS FFA co-sponsor and vocational ag teacher. “Most will be livestock projects, though some students concentrate on youth fair and ag mechanics.”

McClure attributes increased entries to increased numbers of students in vocational ag.

“We have about 275 students enrolled this [semester],” McClure said. “We’re entered in almost every project. We don’t have any breeding rabbits or breeding sheep on our list. Every other division, we have multiple entries.

“We have 34 pens of market rabbits. We have 48 pens of chickens entered. Our next biggest entries are the hogs. We have 30 head of those. We have a pretty good cross-section, 119 in youth fair and 10 ag mechanics. I think kids just want to do things. This is a good opportunity for them to be engaged in a wholesome activity.

“Some of these kids will never make the straight ‘A’ honor roll. Some will never be all-district athletes. But they can all take part in this event and feel good about it and have a shot at doing really well.”

The faltering economy has impacted steer entries. Many youths have been priced out of the market.

“In our chapter, we don’t have very many steer entries,” McClure said. “A lot of that is the economy. A typical steer costs $1,500 or more, and the feed is going to cost at least that much, so you’re talking several thousand dollars. If [the families are not] in the business of showing cattle, that’s a pretty tough project to sell.

“Because of the economy, the smaller projects have gained. Broilers and rabbits are projects a kid can be engaged in for $150 or so. For a lot of families, that’s a lot more doable than $3,000.”

A youth with a steer has to make sale to break even on finances.

“Even some of the calves that make sale don’t break even,” McClure said. “The grand champion and reserve champion do pretty well. If you buy a calf for market price and make sale, you should be able to break even. But if you give more than $1,500 for one, you’re probably going to wind up behind even if you make the sale.”

Money isn’t the primary point of exhibiting an animal. It’s growth, of the animal and of the young person.

“One kid we had who really benefitted was Josh Hasty,” McClure said. “He had some tough times and not a lot of luck at the show, but he came back his senior year and had the grand champion pen of chickens and a sale-making hog. He went on to Clarendon College on a livestock judging scholarship. He’s a senior at Texas Tech now. He learned a lot at the show. He grew a lot. It looks like he’s going to make a living in the livestock industry because of the things he learned at that stock show.

“Out of the 141 kids this year, over 100 never did anything [in ag] before high school. It’s really a foreign land to a lot of them when they first go out there. Then they figure out how to navigate and compete for pen space and how to go into a show ring. For some of these kids, it’s the first time they’ve been responsible for anything other than themselves.”

The projects are for and by the youths.

“A person in the community asked me one time how much the school paid for the animal projects and feed,” McClure said. ‘The district does not buy animals for the students. It doesn’t buy the feed. And [ag teachers] don’t take care of the animals. We tell the kids up front, ‘If you’re going to be out of town on a weekend and need somebody to take care of your project, please don’t call us.’ That’s not what this is about.

“The school district does provide a facility, and that’s a very important part of the process. The A.D. Wheat Center is a blessing because it’s a safe place for the kids to go and a safe place for the animals. If we didn’t have the A.D. Wheat Center, our entries would be half what they are. The school district pays the water bill and light bill there.”

CHS ag teachers will guide a student in the purchase of an animal.

Some animal projects are more difficult than others. Rabbits and chickens are considered the least difficult.

“Most of our projects are market projects,” McClure said. “They have a definite starting and ending place. Some of the breeding projects are a little more challenging. We help the kids find goats and lambs to raise. They cost $200 to $250. You can buy some cheaper than that, and there are people who spend a lot more. If you think [the student] is going to ring the bell and win the championship, you might be willing to pay more for the animal.

“With some folks, it’s a family hobby. We’ll have some youngsters and their families really trying to win grand champion, and my hat’s off to them. Last year, we had the grand champion pig and steer and grand champion metal works. We had a lot of kids in the sale. The goal of most of our kids is to make sale. That’s their measure of success. If they can squeak into that last [sale] spot, they’re about as happy as they’d be getting the first or second spot.”

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