Students at Amphitheater High School are cleaning their animals and writing up buyer letters in preparation for the Pima County Fair and livestock auction, which starts this week.
Since October, about 40 students have raised cows, sheep and pigs out at the 3.5-acre Amphitheater Land Lab just west of First Avenue and Wetmore Road.
“The students do pretty much everything for these animals,” said Becky Laughlin, a vocational assistant instructor. “They wash, clean and feed them.”
They also give them shots and artificial insemination.
The class is not just about kids taking care of animals, though. It also aims to teach students valuable lessons they can take with them even if they decide not to stay with agriculture.
José Bernal, Amphitheater’s director of agriculture education, has worked at the Land Lab since 1981. He oversees about 250 students enrolled in all the animal science classes along with the care and treatment of about 200 piglets, 60 lambs and a few cows.
“The main idea is not to grow animals,” Bernal said. “We’re using the animals to raise kids. To teach them work ethics and responsibility.”
And with legitimate hard work and effort, there often comes a profit.
The Pima County Fair, which runs April 17-27, will include many food vendors, rides and attractions, but one of the more important portions of the fair for the students in the animal science class is the animal auction. This is where they will take their animals to be shown, judged and possibly bought.
The students spend their own money for amenities ranging from animal food to rent for a pen. Even animal insurance is offered.
Like other students, Kelsey Scott, President of Amphitheater’s chapter of Future Farmers of America, spent from $300 to $400 on each of her pigs.
Each pig cost her $125, and she spent about $100 on food.
Pigs at auction usually go for about 50 cents a pound, but people who buy these animals at the fair’s auction seem to spend a little more to help out the students, since they know how well the animals were cared for.
“This is the only class in high school where you actually make money,” Scott said.
During Scott’s freshman year, her pig sold for close to $1000, bringing in a profit of about $700, which can be used for a college scholarship or reinvested back into the purchase of another animal.
To make that kind of money, students work early in the morning and after school cleaning pens, walking animals and filling dishes with feed. If the students choose to go beyond their class offerings, they can enroll in Future Farmers of America.
As Scott prepared her animal for auction at the Pima County Fair, she also put together a buyer’s letter for the big day.
“It consists of telling the buyer who you are, what you’re doing, where you go to school, and trying to make it so they know how great your animals is and how hard you worked with it,” Scott said. “Then they will be more likely to put in a bid for your animal.”
A blue ribbon from the judges doesn’t hurt either.