The first time Tresha Vincent tried to put a web halter on her steer, Alvin, he stepped out of the lasso she had around his neck, ran across a nearby field and into a pond.
It took Tresha, 16, several attempts that day to put a halter on Alvin.
“At first, he didn’t even want anyone near him,” said Tresha, of North Miami, adding that it took Alvin about a month to warm up to her. “Mostly in the beginning, he liked to kick and kick. I kept on coming here [to his stall]. He would try to hit me.”
But one day: “I came in here, and he just started licking my hand,” said Tresha.
As a 10th grader in the Academy of Veterinary Science and Agricultural Technology at William H. Turner Technological Arts School, Tresha is one of the many students raising an animal – cattle, poultry, lambs, goats, swine and equine – that she plans to enter into the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition.
At the Youth Fair, students compete in several categories. They are tested on their knowledge about their animal as well as how well they took care of it. Each prize brings a different monetary award, which together with the auction price for the animal, reimburses the students' investment into their animal.
From purchasing their lambs, chickens and steers, to buying the feed for their animals, students dedicate not only their money but also their time.
For months before the March 2014 fair, Tresha and her peers from Turner Tech as well as from other South Florida schools that offer veterinary and agriculture programs, will learn anything from feeding to administering veterinary care.
“They have to maintain them for seven days a week, which is a huge project,” said Carol Douglass, competitive exhibits director for the Youth Fair, a non-profit organization not affiliated with Miami-Dade County.
Tresha will enter the competition with Alvin, a nearly 1-year old Angus-cross steer. Turner Tech. Twelfth-grader Amara Salmon will enter the competition with Sniper, a one-year-old Limousin-Angus cross steer. (A steer is a male bovine animal that has been castrated and is being raised for beef.)
Linett Martinez, also a 12th grader at Turner Tech, will enter the competition with Lestat, a 5-month-old lamb. Felix Varela Senior High School 12th-grader Javier Diaz will enter the competition with six chickens – two of the Rosecomb breed, two of the Old English breed and two of the Dutch breed.
Students can only enter purebred chickens in the fair, said 17-year-old Javier, who lives near Country Walk.
Indeed, just to check-in to the competition, students’ lambs, steers and chickens need to meet specific requirements.
“We can’t just bring in some mite-infested animal,” said Martinez, 18, of Northwest Miami-Dade County.
Steers entering the fair must weigh at least 850 pounds.
At a recent weigh-in, Amara’s steer tipped the scales at 705 pounds. But the 17-year-old Miami Gardens resident is not worried about Sniper reaching the weight threshold for the fair. In fact, she aims for him to weigh about 1,250 pounds by March.
During the competition, students are tested on how well they raised their animal and also on how much they know about the different breeds and the animal’s anatomy.
“No matter how good your bird looks, if you don’t get the general knowledge questions, you are going to get a low score,” said Javier.
Students entering a steer at the fair will be judged in showmanship, fitting and grooming, and market.
Amara said that how well a steer does in the showmanship category largely depends on the student. A steer with a flat back, “a nice rump,” and a stomach held in tight will excel.
“But an animal’s body depends on you and how well you’ve taken care of the animal,” said Amara. “Their butt depends on how well you feed them.”
That is why students like Amara dedicate hours before, during and after school as well as on weekends to exercise their steers.
Not only do the steers get used to taking direction from their owner, but they also learn proper posture. When a pressure point on the steers’ stomachs is pushed, they correct their posture, said Amara.
“Every day is a lesson with these animals,” she said.
Tresha, Alvin’s owner and caretaker, as well as Javier, the owner and caretaker of six chickens, can attest to that statement.
When one of Javier’s birds became listless and picked at her feathers, he had to figure out what was wrong. After consulting with his classmates, he experimented with changes in her diet. It took him four months to figure out that this particular chicken needed more calcium and protein in her diet.
“Every animal is different,” he said. “Some will eat a regular diet but some are more picky.”
A couple of months ago, Tresha came into Alvin's stall to find a mess.
“At that time, I didn’t mix the corn with the rest of the feed. I put it side by side,” said Tresha. “So he only ate the corn and got sick with diarrhea.”
To be exact, Alvin ate about four pounds of corn that day.
“I don’t think you can ever forget your first steer,” she said. “Once you’ve had a steer, you can probably handle a lot of other animals.”