BROOKSVILLE — For the past five months, Samantha Pankow, Margo Stewart and Samantha Browning have spent their early mornings in heavy rubber boots and aprons for the daily ritual: tending to their pigs.
For most teenagers, cleaning pens, filling feed troughs and trimming hooves may be seem like intolerable tasks. But for the trio of Hernando High School seniors, the work is essential toward their goal of bringing home top honors at the Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show.
"Other than the smell and the sweat and having to deal with animals that don't want to cooperate, it's not so bad," Pankow said with a laugh. "I guess no one does this without knowing what they're getting into."
For the 150 or so Hernando County kids involved in agricultural-based exhibits, the livestock barns are the real bustling centers of activity at the fair.
Many, like Pankow, Stewart and Browning, will spend almost every waking hour there during the fair. Some will even sleep at the fairgrounds to make sure their animals are preened and ready for the judges.
Browning and Stewart are both veterans of the swine-raising game. Stewart, an honor student planning to study veterinary medicine and biology in college, has exhibited for three years at the fair. Browning, also an honor student, earned top prize for showmanship at last year's fair.
A rookie, Pankow says her peers have provided solid guidance.
"They've been great," Pankow said. "We've become good friends, and that helps. We know we can rely on each other."
That's been true ever since November, with the purchase of the 16 baby Yorkshire-Hampshire crossbreed pigs that weighed a little less than 10 pounds each. Since then, members of the Brooksville FFA chapter have assumed every aspect of their raising, including twice-a-day feedings, periodic worming and tending to any wounds that might detract from value at auction.
Stewart, who estimates she has spent more than $400 in the care and feeding of her pig, said any profit from the sale of her animal will go toward her college fund.
Hernando High agricultural science teacher Rick Ahrens laments that visitors walking through the livestock barn rarely consider what goes into raising the animals.
"It demonstrates a tremendous amount of discipline and dedication," Ahrens said. "It's probably one of the best learning experiences these kids will ever have."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.
By the Numbers
150 or so Hernando County kids involved in agricultural-based exhibits
$400 Amount teen Margo Stewart estimates she has spent to feed and care for her pig. She plans to put any profit from its sale toward college.