DOVER — Anna Conrad is no stranger to showing livestock around the country.
She has traveled to fairs and festivals in Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky with her third-generation farming family, showing their purebred shorthorn cattle.
But the Strawberry Festival, by far, is nearest to her heart, and not just because its virtually in the Dover teenager's back yard.
The Plant City High School senior, the school's Future Farmers of America chapter president and two-time district representative, intends to make her family and the FFA proud when she shows her 10th heifer and fourth steer at the Florida Strawberry Festival next week.
Amid all the entertainment acts and midway rides, the festival maintains a connection to its agricultural roots with such competitions.
Conrad, an experienced 18-year-old cattle woman, says she especially enjoys being a part of the livestock competition because the community comes out and supports its youths and makes them feel valued.
"You certainly know everyone you're showing with, and most of them are my friends, so that's what makes it different from any other show I've been to," Conrad said. "There's a competitive edge to it, but it's a friendly competition so that makes it a lot of fun."
The Strawberry Festival's market steer show is an intense three-night competition that begins with student exhibitors showing the physical attributes of their steer in three separate divisions and classes, culminating in the Grand Championship.
The second night focuses on the skills of the showman.
During the final show night, the exhibitors sell the steer to the community through a bidding process.
Conrad's heifer won Grand Champion in 2014 and her steer won First Division Championship in 2015. Working closely with her show animals and seeing that their individual needs are met is an 11-month regimen that starts in April and ends the following March.
The showing of steers and heifers in many ways is similar to a beauty pageant, Conrad says. It's all about presentation and getting the cattle to look and act their best.
During the course of the training period, she baths the animals three times a week, rinses and brushes their hair daily and gets them used to the show-stick and halters and the pattern of walking together in the ring.
Through it all, Conrad uses gentle actions and communicates softly with the animals to gain their trust so they feel protected.
Inevitably, it's impossible not to develop a relationship with the animals, and she admits to shedding a few tears when the showing is over.
"It's a cycle; it's the way it works and I've accepted that. One day they're going to do their job, and you have to do your job. They're market animals and not pets, and you have to remember that," she said.
Some of the money from the sale of her steers has been set aside in an account that Conrad uses to raise future show animals. Whether she wins a division title or Grand Championship this year may be determined by what the judge is looking for on the day of the show.
Conrad's parents, who inherited a farming business that spans two counties, couldn't be prouder of their daughter, the eldest of four children, and all the other youth exhibitors.
"It takes a lot of time, effort and dedication to see these livestock projects succeed," said Jason Conrad, Anna's father. "All of the exhibitors are good kids and I truly feel they are all ambassadors for agriculture."
Her mother, Stephanie Conrad, is grateful that her daughter has decided to pursue an ag-related career and give back to the industry that means so much to her family.
"I'm excited to see where Anna's journey will take her, and I know she'll be successful at whatever she chooses to do," Stephanie Conrad said.
Contact Kathryn Moschella at [email protected]