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Brandon High senior learns emotional challenge of raising cattle

Carly Lucas, 18, pets her steer Weezy while waiting for a vet to examine him. She has been raising cattle for years and enters them in fairs like the Strawberry Festival. The Brandon High senior puts her winnings into a college fund.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Carly Lucas, 18, pets her steer Weezy while waiting for a vet to examine him. She has been raising cattle for years and enters them in fairs like the Strawberry Festival. The Brandon High senior puts her winnings into a college fund.

PLANT CITY

It breaks her heart a little, raising cattle to go to slaughter.

She sobbed the first few times.

Now, at 18, Carly Lucas checks her emotions in the name of business.

This week the Brandon High School senior will take Weezy, a 950-pound steer, to the Florida Strawberry Festival to get weighed, judged and sold.

Buyers like Publix pay about $4 a pound.

"Since it's my senior year, I hope to make a little bit more money," said Lucas, who in four years has saved more than $7,000 for college showing steers, heifers and bulls.

Try making that at an after-school job.

Jim Jeffries, chairman of the Florida Strawberry Festival's agriculture committee, said about 1,000 students will show plants and animals at the festival this year. They come from 4-H clubs and FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) chapters throughout Hillsborough, Polk and Manatee counties. They compete for prize money, scholarships and bids from buyers.

This year, Lucas is one of 115 Hillsborough FFA high school students who will show steers. The judged competition begins Tuesday and continues through the week. The public is invited to a steer show Wednesday night.. First place is a $200 cash prize.

"The students who participate learn responsibility," Jeffries said. "They also have the opportunity to benefit financially and start working in the industry."

• • •

Lucas started showing animals a decade ago. First it was the Australian shepherds she kept as pets. She raised pigs in middle school. At Brandon High, where she is vice president of FFA, she shows beef breeds.

She spends three hours a day in agriculture classes. She wakes up at 6 a.m. to feed Weezy and takes him for walks after school.

"Exercise keeps (his) muscles from not getting too fatty," Lucas said of the steer.

Her animals stay on campus or at her uncle's barn in Seffner. She gets home late after feeding them at night.

"These students learn real quick that if they don't take care of their animal, they aren't going to grow and be healthy," said Richard Albertson, agriculture teacher at Brandon High.

Lucas said the toughest part of cattle raising is finding time to study. The county requires a 2.5 grade point average for students to show steers. Brandon High requires the same for membership in FFA.

Lucas has a 3.5 and takes honors classes. She misses class often traveling with FFA to shows as far as Kansas City. Sometimes, she does her homework in the barn.

Students who show steer will miss four school days while at the Strawberry Festival. The county counts the absences as school business. After she graduates in the spring, Lucas plans to go to Hillsborough Community College. Eventually, she wants to attend the University of Florida and major in education. She has taken some pre-vet tech classes at school but considers that a backup plan.

"I want to be an agriculture teacher," she said.

She calls FFA a lifestyle. She doesn't waste time playing video games or sleeping in on the weekends. She has work to do.

• • •

In spite of her resolve to keep her charges at an emotional distance, she likes the animals. When she gets a new calf in the summer, she quietly dreads the coming of winter and the final sale.

"You try not to become emotionally attached," she said. "But you spend so much time with them everyday, they become like dogs to you."

There was Iggy, Chancey, Lonnie and Luna.

Each got loaded onto the back of a stranger's trailer and driven the last mile.

Nowadays, Lucas helps load them up. She will say goodbye to Weezy and move on.

Sarah Whitman can be reached at (813) 661-2439 or swhitman@sptimes.com.

>> If You Go

Florida Strawberry Festival

Through March 13

303 N Lemon St., Plant City

10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

General admission $10, $5 children 6-12, children 5 and younger admitted free

Youth steer show

Wednesday at 6 p.m.

Steer sale

March 12 at 7 p.m.

Source: flstrawberryfestival.com

Brandon High senior learns emotional challenge of raising cattle 03/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2011 4:16pm]
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