Despite no meetings or social gatherings, the 99 kids in the Seminole Indian 4-H program have been resilient throughout this challenging time and have cared for their animals valiantly.
They should be well-prepared for the virtual show, which will be videotaped March 22-26 from locations in Hollywood, Big Cypress, Immokalee and Brighton. The 4-H’ers will show their animals one at a time to ensure social distancing. Judges from the University of Florida will review the video and choose the winners.
“We want to bring back the excitement of the show,” said Kimberly Clement, 4-H special projects coordinator. “Positive youth development is more essential than anything right now. Our meetings have always been fun, but we haven’t been able to have those get-togethers. We are looking forward to the day we can meet together again.”
The pandemic hasn’t prevented the 4-H’ers from going into the barn, pasture or back yard to get to know and care for their animals. Virtual schooling has allowed the kids more time to spend with those animals.
Sisters Armani and Makayla Torres have been taking care of their steers together in Big Cypress. The Ahfachkee School students – Armani is in ninth grade, Makayla is in 11th – have taken classes online since the pandemic began.
Last year, Armani had a pig as her 4-H project. She was a little afraid of it, but is much more comfortable with her steer.
“Miss Kim (Clement) showed me how not to be scared anymore,” said Armani, 15. “She taught me how to hold him, steer him around and walk him right. I spend a lot more time with him than I did last year. It’s given me more confidence because the more time I spend with him, the more he gets used to me. Now he doesn’t buck and run into me. I’m looking forward to the show; I’m trying to teach him how to stop.”
This is Makayla’s first year in 4-H. She spends about two hours with the steer twice a day.
“It’s an experience. You have to get used to it and the animal has to get used to you,” said Makayla, 17. “I let him play a little, clean his pen, get his feed ready and walk him. He has to get used to walking for the show; he has to practice. Then he eats and we do it again later. When he sees the same person every day, you get used to each other. But he has his moments, like anyone else if he isn’t having a good day. It takes time. You have to spend time with him.”
Typically, they go to the barn first thing in the morning before virtual school starts and again late in the afternoon. Both girls received their animals from their grandfather Carl Baxley’s herd.
“It makes [him] happy because I’m following in his footsteps,” said Makayla. “I think I would have a harder time doing this if I went to school in person. I’d probably spend less time with the steer. Now I always make time for him before anything else.”
The 4-H staff of Clement, Dionne Smedley and Sheli Tigertail have worked with the 4-H’ers on the phone, through email or socially distanced in person.
“Anytime they have questions or concerns about showmanship and grooming we are able to answer and help them,” Clement said. “We’ve always been available to them and want them to reach out to us with their questions. We also contact those who haven’t asked any questions.”
Clement believes this year has been less stressful, when it comes to 4-H, since the kids don’t have to worry about making it to meetings. Despite the lack of meetings, the kids and their animals are doing very well.
“I feel like the kids are getting the point of what they are doing by raising the animals,” she said. “If you don’t take care of them properly, they won’t grow to their full potential. I think we have some really good animals this year.”
Makayla praised Clement’s impact on her 4-H experience.
“I know we have someone to go to if we need any advice,” Makayla said. “She’s a great person. You can call her and ask if she will be here to help me and she is there in an hour. I couldn’t ask for a better person to help me with my project.”
The show is shaping up to be a good one, regardless of the circumstances. Kids in Hollywood will show 16 swine, one steer and two heifers. Big Cypress 4-H’ers will present 10 swine, 13 steer, two heifers and three 2-year-old bred heifers. Immokalee kids have been busy raising 13 swine. Brighton’s 4-H’ers will exhibit 19 swine, 22 steers, five heifers, one 2-year-old bred heifer, two cow/calf and three Salacoa Valley Farms registered bred 2-year-old heifers.
During the videotaping of the virtual show, the kids will be in show attire and walk their animals for three minutes similar to a normal year, but they won’t be in the ring with other contestants, animals and judges. This time, they are exhibiting to the camera and need to make sure they showcase every angle of their animal for judges to see it on video. They will also be judged for showmanship.
After the kids have shown their steers, heifers or hogs, they will be sorted into classes. The videos will be sent to the judges. First-place winners in each class will be considered for grand champion and second place will be considered for reserve grand champion. Each exhibitor will be judged for showmanship in the junior, intermediate and senior categories for swine, steer and heifer.
Information on when and how to view the show and bid on the animals at the sale will be forthcoming.