Kids vie for best in show at Santa Barbara County Fair


SANTA MARIA — Before he started raising Piggy Sue, 12-year-old Robert Flores hadn’t heard of a picky pig.

But when the Yorkshire pig had trouble eating earlier this year, Robert brainstormed ways to get her to eat so she would make weight at this year’s Santa Barbara County Fair.

The solution: adding a little Ensure to her pig feed. Piggy Sue weighed in Monday at 233 pounds, just 3 pounds over the minimum limit.

“She just barely made it,” said Robert, a member of the Nipomo Foothills 4-H Club who’s going into eighth grade at Mesa Middle School.

Robert and nine other club members are showing their swine this week at the Santa Maria Fairpark. The fair opened Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

Robert’s pig took sixth place in showmanship in the novice category, in which the youths are judged on how well they handle their animals, and sixth in the market competition, where the pigs’ characteristics and structure are judged. They’ll head to auction Saturday, as will the steers, goats and sheep.

Most 4-H and FFA members use money from the auction toward the purchase and care of next year’s animal; the rest usually goes into a college fund.

But the profit margin is normally pretty slim for those showing steers or replacement heifers (females that have been bred), since the cost of purchasing and feeding them can average $2,000 to $4,000, said Steve DeRose, who heads up the agricultural department at Arroyo Grande High School and oversees its FFA program.

“Without the local support (at the auction), they wouldn’t be able to do it,” DeRose said of the students in the program. The Arroyo Grande FFA has 78 members showing various livestock at the fair this year.

Those members include James Purkey, who on Wednesday morning was readying his steer, Panda Bear, for the market steer show.

James has shown heifers, pigs and turkeys in the past, but this is his first year with a steer. Panda Bear weighed in Monday at 1,248 pounds.

“I’m so nervous,” said James, 17, a senior at Arroyo Grande High.

A few barns over, Courtney Wildey, a soon-to-be-seventh-grader at Paulding Middle, showed off a much smaller animal: her rabbit, Dr. Pepper.

Courtney, 11, took second place in a costume contest dressed up as Alice, with Dr. Pepper as the white rabbit in a red shirt, jacket, a pocket watch and tiny spectacles. 

She is showing two other rabbits at the fair this year.

“They’re really cute and soft, and I think it’s fun to breed and play with them,” Courtney said.