- January 7, 2022
Kassidy Callaghan, an eighth grader at Carlos E. Haile Middle School, walked her cow Ruby around the barn.
On a school day, Callaghan doesn’t have much room around the barn to walk her cows, Ruby and Mercy.
But during winter break, Callaghan will be able to use the soccer field by the barn because students are not on campus.
While thousands of Manatee County students are at home or traveling during winter break, dozens of Future Farmers of America students will be returning to empty campuses to care for the animals and continue to prepare for the Manatee County Fair.
Callaghan said being on campus during break is calming because there are no distractions from other students.
Lourdes Capote-Dishaw, a junior at Braden River High School, said coming back to campus when school is out is “like a breath of fresh air.” She’s able to focus on her passion rather than thinking about other school subjects as well.
“There’s more learning based off actual things that will lead to something in my future when I can help teach other people about why agriculture is important," Capote-Dishaw said. "I’ve decided I want to be an agricultural lawyer so I can help people with land preservation.”
Capote-Dishaw said she goes to Braden River High four times per day when she’s on break from school to take care of her cows, Bobbert and Elsa.
“Most teenagers stay at home and they’re on their devices,” she said. “I personally love being outside so coming (to school) and sweating has never been a problem to me. I’ll stay here for hours on end and just work with them. I feed them Cheez-Its.”
If students want to travel during winter break, they’ll ask other students to look after their animals while they’re out of town.
“We kind of have a family here,” Capote-Dishaw said. “That is crucial so we can help each other out when we’re out of town.”
Students said they use school breaks as an opportunity to bond more with their animals, which is crucial when preparing to show at the fair.
“(Bonding) is important because it’s how the animal gains trust so they’re not scared,” said Ashlyn Meyers, an eighth grader at Haile Middle who will be showing a cow, Josie, at the fair with eighth grader Victoria Staszak. “Josie is skittish. If she doesn’t know somebody, she really doesn’t trust them at first.”
Several students said not having to go to school means they can spend more time at the barn. Some might be there for hours cleaning their animal’s stall, feeding them, walking them, training them or simply just sitting in the stall and being with them.
Haiden Laraway, a Braden River High junior, said whenever she’s working with her cows, Tuxedo and Velvet, she likes to take them to different parts of campus so they can become adjusted to different environments. She’ll have her friends and other FFA students on campus at the time make different noises so she can train her cows not to get distracted.
R. Dan Nolan Middle School sixth grader Caroline Bradley will be able to take advantage of the showmanship clinics that will be offered at her school over the break.
Carolyn Gilbert, Nolan Middle’s FFA advisor, said the clinics will give students opportunities to have one-on-one practices and group practices to prepare for the fair.
Bradley said knowing she’ll be able to participate in the clinics will make her more confident when showing her pig, Spike, at the fair.
During break, Bradley wants to focus on getting Spike to turn at her command.