Walking into the barn used by Kingman High's Future Farmers of America produces an assault on your senses. The pungent aroma of livestock mixes with the sounds of squealing pigs, noisy goats and 20 high school students.
With the Mohave County Fair kicking off today, it's a busy time of year for the students in the high school's FFA program. Students who spent months raising their animals for the fair get to show off their hard work today and Friday with the ultimate hope that someone will buy their animals at Saturday's auction.
"We have a lot of good animals this year and a lot of good students to show them," said FFA Advisor Sean Wright.
Students raised their pigs, goats and sheep for the last five months. For about three hours a day, these students feed the animals, clean their stalls, train them to walk for the show and play with them.
"You get them as babies," said Lukas Ortiz, a senior. "You have to bond with them and train them."
The emotional attachment a student has to his or her animal is sometimes difficult to deal with when it comes time for the auction and the subsequent slaughter of the animal for food.
"The first year is the worst," Ortiz said. "But now I look at it as, 'It's their lifespan.'"
At least one student, junior Haley Finch, has her fingers crossed that no one buys her goat, Rowdy.
"He's my buddy," she said.
If someone does purchase Rowdy, Finch plans to try to buy him back. She wants him noticed, with his white coat and attentive eyes, but she doesn't want him sold.
She also raised a pig this year, but it won't be as lucky as Rowdy.
"I'll sell a pig any time," she said. But Rowdy, "He'll be my pet."
The ultimate goal of FFA during this process is to raise animals that will produce prime cuts of meat when slaughtered, Wright said.
"You want to be able to give that product to the consumer and still be able to make money," Wright said.
In the classroom, students learn how to balance feed rations, analyze the cost of raising an animal and learn a bit about veterinary science, which helps them understand when their animals are sick. All of that fits together when it comes to raising a good animal without breaking the bank.
All of this work pays off, literally.
When a student's animal sells, he or she gets the money.
Logan Williams, a senior, knows what it takes to make a good sale: perfect weight and a good show.
He earned a paltry $125 his first year because his pig was too fat.
"I had a 348-pound pig," he said.
If a pig weighs less than 225, it doesn't get in the show. If it weighs more than 275 pounds, it's a waste because people stop paying for pounds of meat after 275, Williams said.
Last year, Williams' pig sold for $900 because it had just the right weight and put on a good show.
About five years ago, an FFA member sold a pig for $6,000, Wright said. But that was a different time, he said.
Auction animals are judged in the 4-H/FFA livestock show starting at 8 a.m. Friday for goats, 11 a.m. for small animals, 4 p.m. for sheep and 7 p.m. for beef. At 8 a.m. Saturday, judging will wrap up with the swine.
A total of 16 students in the FFA program will show 17 animals in the next few days, with the auction beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Raising animals isn't all these FFA kids do, Wright said. Whether it's growing fruit, vegetables and poinsettias in the school's greenhouse or competing in 37 different FFA competitions throughout the year, these kids are busy and dedicated to their work.
Through Kingman High FFA and the Western Arizona Vocational Education Joint Technical Education District, students earn academic credit for their work. But FFA is much more to these kids than a notch on their report cards.
"It becomes a way of life," Wright said.