For the love of livestock: Collin County students compete for bragging rights at Myers Event Center
They come from all corners of Collin County with four-legged friends in tow, all ready to show off their hard work for a chance to be best in show.
Starting Wednesday, FFA and 4H students in grades three through 12 will converge at Myers Park & Event Center for the Collin County Jr. Livestock Show, boasting everything from poultry to cattle. The annual show is a local follow-up of sorts to last month's North Texas Showdown, in which youths throughout Texas and Oklahoma presented their prized possessions.
More than 20 Plano ISD students will be presenting animals on each of the event's four days.
Catherine LaChey, a 17-year-old Plano East student, will be showing what she hopes will be a prize pig at the event.
So far, she has put about $600 into her pig and has spent countless hours preparing her for the show.
Qualities looked for in female pigs, or gilts, include body shape, fat and muscle -- all qualities required for producing strong offspring, LaChey said.
"It takes a lot of time; you have to want it," she said of the preparation necessary for the show. "I would say daily I have to go out to the barn. My pig is on a self-feeder because she just needs to be fat and big. I clean her; I walk her. We have [a] sand pit out by the barn ... and [walking in the sand] helps the pig build more muscle."
Katie Ullrich, an 18-year-old Plano East student, has been raising two heifers to show at the event. Like LaChey's animal, Ullrich's cows will be judged on their capacity for breeding, including frame size, udder health and hair coat.
Ullrich, who has been working with her heifers since they were calves, said she hopes to attend Texas A&M next year to become an agriculture teacher.
"It's so inspiring," she said of the livestock show. "It gives you a lot of responsibility. When you show your cattle, you're with other students showing animals, so you build a family with them. You're with them every day. You build responsibility with your calf, and you grow attached to your calf. It's something different."
While the students have been raising their animals, a livestock board made up of agricultural teachers, extension agents and parents has been meeting monthly throughout the year planning for this week's competition. They have been reviewing the rules and creating a sense of organization for an event that is expected to draw close to 700 participants, said Chris Schraeder, extension agent for Collin County AgriLife Extension Office in McKinney.
"I was told this little county show was one of biggest county shows in the state of Texas," he said. "It's a very tough competition."
While students also work throughout the year caring for their animals to make sure they're the best of the best, the owners themselves must also shine when it comes to showmanship, and they must prove their knowledge when asked questions about the animals' care while showing the animal.
"This is something they have to plan on and prepare themselves ahead of time [for]," Schraeder said. "They learn how to take care of the animal, what type of feed [to give them] to make sure it's healthy ... it's similar to having the responsibility of raising a pet, but at the same time trying to condition this animal to be the best overall animal."
Aside from receiving a commemorative belt buckle and bragging rights for being best in their division, winners also increase their chances of receiving full scholarships through 4H and FFA, perhaps one aspect that has enabled this show to be shared by generations of local families.
The show will conclude with a barbecue dinner, awards presentation and a premium auction on Jan. 12, in which local businesses and booster clubs "bid" on their favorite farm animal to help cover some of the owner's expenses.
"Shows like these are rich in Texas tradition," Schraeder said. "It's a very big commitment, and a lot of times these kids don't capture that money back; but if their animal does a good enough job, the donations will go to that kid. They can then keep the animal to go on to the Fort Worth or Houston livestock show."
Want to go?
What: Collin County Jr. Livestock Show
When: Jan. 9-12
Where: Myers Park & Event Center
Schedule of Events
Wednesday, Jan. 9
8 a.m. -- Poultry judging
11 a.m. -- Judging of meat pens followed by breeding rabbits
1 p.m. -- Swine show
3-6 p.m. -- Official weigh-in of lambs and goats
Thursday, Jan. 10
8 a.m. -- Goat show begins
2 p.m. -- Sheep show begins
5 p.m. -- Commercial heifer followed by steer weigh-in
Friday, Jan. 11
9 a.m. -- Shop judging
10 a.m. -- Beef heifer and horticulture judging
5 p.m. -- Steer judging
Saturday, Jan. 12
11 a.m. -- Barbecue dinner
12:30 p.m. -- Special awards presentation
1 p.m. -- Premium auction begins
Staff writer Conner Hammett contributed to this story.