Hard work pays off at Santa Barbara County Fair in Santa Maria

Luke Cavanillas, 13, of Nipomo with his pig Nex at the Santa Barbara County Fair in Santa Maria.
Luke Cavanillas, 13, of Nipomo with his pig Nex at the Santa Barbara County Fair in Santa Maria. johnston@thetribunenews.com

From his perch on a lawn chair at the Santa Maria Fairpark, Donnie O’Henley of Nipomo kept one eye on the stalls housing his FFA club’s goats and another on other exhibitors scurrying around readying their sheep to show.

Every member of the Nipomo High School FFA club is responsible for barn duty, and on Wednesday morning — the opening day of the Santa Barbara County Fair — it was O’Henley’s turn to keep the aisles swept and answer questions from passersby.

O’Henley, 15, raised two animals for this year’s fair: a Boer goat and a replacement heifer (a female that has been bred).

While his goat, Jorge, rested on a bed of straw, O’Henley listed a few things he’s learned about goats: they’re stubborn, strong, and not very good listeners.

“You fight them, they’ll fight back,” he said.

But all the hours he worked with Jorge has paid off: the goat took sixth place in showmanship in the novice class, in which the youths are judged on how well they handle their animals, and second in the market competition, where the animals’ characteristics and structure are judged.

Hundreds of youths from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties are showing their animals at the fair this week. The beef, swine, dairy goat, rabbit and poultry barns bustled with activity as 4-H and FFA club members washed, brushed and groomed their animals.

Nine-year-old Elizabeth Brunick radiated nervous anticipation as she helped prep her sheep, Jockobeans, for the showmanship competition. Her sheep placed 10th in the market competition Tuesday.

“I’m so excited,” said Brunick, a member of the Nipomo 4-H Club.

Over in the swine barn, Luke Cavanillas returned from the market swine competition and stood inside a stall as his pig, Nex, snoozed.

Earlier this year, Cavanillas, 13, was worried that Nex was gaining too much weight and put him on a diet. But he needn’t have worried: Nex weighed in this week at 264 pounds.

Cavanillas, a member of the Huasna Valley 4-H Club, hopes to earn from $7 to $8 a pound at the junior livestock auction on Saturday.

Many 4-H and FFA members use money from the auction toward the purchase and care of next year’s animal.

At the moment, though, Cavanillas wasn’t thinking about the auction. It was almost noon, and the carnival was beckoning.

“I’m going on rides later,” he said.