Livestock shows just part of the entertainment schedule.
About a year ago, Issy Monroe, now an eighth grader at Carlos E. Haile Middle School, was petrified of cows and steers.
“They could easily hurt me,” she said. “They would run after you, and I would hop the fence and run.”
Since then, though, Monroe has conquered her fear of cows and steers after starting to work with Napoleon, a 964-pound steer, whom she will show in the Manatee County Fair.
Napoleon weighed 964 pounds before the schools left on their holiday break, and although she has yet to weigh him in January, she estimates he is about 1,000 pounds.
“I connected with him on the first day [we met], and I kind of got over being scared of him,” Monroe said. “When I sat down, he laid down, and he put his head on my lap.”
This year’s fair, which runs from Jan. 16-26, will be the second time Monroe has shown an animal with the Future Farmers of America program. Last year, she showed a chicken, and it was that experience that made her realize working with chickens wasn’t for her.
While at the fair, she saw other students from several Manatee County schools’ FFA programs working with cows and steers and thought it was something she wanted to do.
Throughout their year together, Monroe has built a connection with the black-and-white-faced steer named after Napoleon Bonaparte for his supposed small stature. Monroe said Napoleon — the steer — is shorter than most.
What Napoleon lacks in height, he makes up for in personality.
“He’s definitely playful,” Monroe said. “He’s very loving. If he’s lying down on the ground, and you sit down next to him, he’ll put his head on your lap, and he just wants you to pet him. He’s also very curious.”
Monroe spends about 12 hours during the week and five hours on the weekend taking care of Napoleon, training him and cleaning his area of the barn.
On Jan. 22, Monroe will take Napoleon into the ring at the Manatee County Fair for the first time for the Steer Showmanship competition. They’ll return Jan. 23 for the steer show and again Jan. 25 for the steer sale at 1 p.m.
Other East County FFA members have high hopes for the fair.
Kaylee Shear, a freshman at Lakewood Ranch High School, will bring the power of Thanos to the fair.
She named after a villain in Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” because of his stubbornness and eagerness to fight with other pigs.
“I thought giving him a super villain name would be funny,” Shear said.
Shear started showing pigs as an eighth grader at Carlos E. Haile Middle School. She said she continues to work with pigs because “they make the best money, and they’re just really lovable.”
“They’re kind of like dogs in a sense,” she said.
Emma Radley, a sophomore at Braden River High School, has plenty of experience showing animals at the fair.
Radley is in her fifth year, and this year she’s hoping to take home some prizes with a steer, heifer and two llamas.
Taking care of and preparing four animals for the fair comes with its challenges. Radley has to juggle traveling to Arcadia to work with her llamas, Ebony and Luna, while also managing time to work with Bingo, her steer, and Opal, her heifer.
Showing a heifer is a first for Radley this year.
“I’m learning they’re not always as friendly as the steers, and they can kind of can be a little more moody and sassy,” she said.
Shaylynn Davis, a sophomore at Braden River High School, is not only looking forward to seeing how her steer, Cleetus, and two beef heifers, Marley and Mari, do at the fair but also reuniting with FFA and 4-H students from across the county.
"It's a good kickoff to the year," Davis said. "You just get to spend a week with family and friends while eating food and going on rides."
Davis has been showing animals at the fair since she was 8 years old and said it has taught her responsibility and leadership.
For Byron Simon, a seventh grader at R. Dan Nolan Middle School, preparing for the Manatee County Fair is all about time management.
Simon spends about 12 hours per week working with his livestock: three to four hours per week working with his pig, Dolly; two to three hours with his dairy heifer Holly; and the rest of the time when he’s not at school or doing homework with his heifer River.
Although he said he’s never felt quite confident about showing animals, this year, he’s ready to show Dolly, the pig.
“I picked out a great pig this year, and I feel like she’s going to do an amazing show,” Simon said. “Show is where you make your money, so I’d rather her do better in that.”