Along with missed senior proms and canceled Class of 2020 high school graduations, Healdsburg, Windsor and Geyserville FFA and 4-H members also will be missing the annual youth livestock judging and auctions at the Healdsburg Future Farmers Country Fair (HFFCF) and the August Sonoma County Fair.
Instead, the Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter at Healdsburg High School is hosting HTOWN Virtual Livestock Expo later this month. Instead of the white-garbed 4-H members and the blue-jacketed FFA youth parading in the show ring in front of hundreds of family and friends at Healdsburg’s Rec Park, they will have just an audience of five judges who will watch submitted videos online from their locations in Kansas, Oklahoma and Ohio.
“Of course nothing can replace the real thing,” said Wesley Hunt, Healdsburg’s FFA chapter advisor. “We wanted the students to have some recognition of their work with their animals. We had lots of interest from the parents and our Ag Boosters to do this.”
The expo also has attracted business sponsors that usually support the live judging and auction at each year’s Future Farmers Fair. Main sponsors are Plum Electric, Brandt Insurance, Fat Boy Enterprises and Alpha Fire Suppression. Other businesses and individuals have donated funds to provide prize belt buckles, trophies and ribbons. “Our aim is to provide an avenue for the youth to showcase their skills raising, fitting and showing their market animals with a competitive and positive attitude,” said Hunt.
Participation looks very good said Hunt and the youth are making videos of themselves this week at various locations, staging their animal showmanship, exhibiting their animals and making it as real as possible. Entries will include rabbits, beef, swine, sheep and goats and will be for market animals only, not breeders. Video entries are due May 15.
Many of the youth exhibitors are high school seniors who plan to attend college later this year. But, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the start to these college careers on hold as well. Most colleges have not announced fall semester plans for which classes may be held on campus or replaced by computer-based distance learning sessions.
Ian Plum is making his video this week at a Napa county location where his swine broker Ernest Donahue has a show ring. “I’ll be in my official whites and do the best I can.”
Plum is also a member of the Lytton Springs 4-H Club. He’s been raising three Duroc cross pigs since January and plans to show one in the HTown Expo and auction two of them at the May 22 HFFCF virtual auction. The two virtual events are not affiliated, but many local youth are participating in both. Plum is a HHS senior and plans to attend Chico State this fall and begin studies in agricultural science and education with plans to be an ag teacher one day.
“We’ll see. My plans could change,” he said. Plum and his friend Luis Magdaleno showed off his well-fed pig to visitors recently, explaining how he hopes the video taping will go. “I think it will be fine. My pigs handle pretty well.”
Plum and Magdaleno recently participated in the Western Bonnaza Show at Paso Robles where Plum’s animal won fifth place in the large exhibition just before the statewide shelter-in-place was evoked.
Brileigh Blosser, another HHS senior completed her video entry in Monday’s rain at Jim Neumiller’s barn. She is showing two market lambs she has been raising since February. As she was preparing for her video session she said she wants to be able to react to any “spontaneous moves” by her sheep, which are notoriously skittish in a show ring.
“I need to show that I can control my animal while I show off their best qualities,” Blosser said.
Blosser plans to attend Sonoma State University next semester, although the school has not announced attendance plans as yet.
Advisor Hunt has recruited five livestock judges from outside California. In-state judges are not allowed. As it turns out, virtual livestock judging and auctions are not uncommon and have been employed for years for commercial auctions. “It saves lots of travel when you think about it,” said Plum, who has traveled as far as Phoenix to purchase swine in the past.
Banner, buckle and cash awards will be announced May 19 at the website htownexpo.weebly.com.