By the time February rolls around, the snowbirds have made their annual migration, the horse show people have set up shop for the winter season and quiet Marion County sees its population and activity level skyrocket. And while it’s perfect theme park-going weather, there’s one event right under our noses that highlights some of the hardest-working kids around—local kids at that. The Southeastern Youth Fair is the largest all-youth fair in the state of Florida and the oldest-running fair without a midway. This not-for-profit event is completely volunteer-run and consists of Marion County’s 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) clubs’ members. Whether it’s learning how to raise and produce quality lamb, steer or swine; bake decadent desserts; serve up the best BBQ or show off a multitude of artistic talents, these kids have dedicated long hours and juggled rigorous academic schedules—and even a few minutes of free time—for a chance to be the best of the bunch.
Riding ‘N’ Roping
Ask most 14-year-old boys what they want to do for the rest of their lives and you’ll probably get a blank stare followed by a “huh?” That’s not the case for Colt Papy. Ask this outgoing and confident young man what his future holds and he’ll look you straight in the eye and answer “to be the best roper there ever was.”
“Colt will rope just about anything,” laughs his mother, Joy, who says Colt not only ropes targets of the four-legged variety but friends, family and even a miniature calf model that sits on the table while Colt ropes it with a shoestring.
Roping cattle comes as second nature to Colt, who lives and works on his family’s 600-acre Baldwin Angus Ranch in Northwest Ocala. He’s been a participant in the Southeastern Youth Fair for seven years now, competing in the homegrown steer competition. He explains that he’ll select a steer out of the herd when it’s about seven or eight months.
“Everyone kind of has their own idea on what they’re looking for. The more you do it, the more you know what you want,” he says. Being an active participant in the livestock judging program through both 4-H and the Junior Cattleman’s Association, Colt has some experience selecting prospective champion steers.
“You have to be able to look at the frame and how long they are,” he says. “After a while, you can tell which animals will be winners.”
Colt explains that the steer starts off at around 500 to 600 pounds but has to weigh-in at a minimum of 900 pounds by the time the fair starts.
“They have to put on at least 2 1/4 pounds a day, so you have to make sure they get enough food and that they are eating what you feed them. If they don’t like it, you’ve got to try other feeds and combinations,” he says. Along with feeding the steer, Colt has to get them halter broke, brush them, lead them around and prepare them for the show ring.
At only 14, Colt is too young to compete in the rodeo portion of the fair this year, but he’s been extremely successful on the Junior High Rodeo circuit, competing in New Mexico for the national finals.
“We’re at competitions almost every weekend,” says Colt, who is homeschooled, allowing him more time to work with his cattle and hone his rodeo skills. “I don’t watch DVDs, and I don’t know how to hook up a Wii,” he says. “I want to be a professional rodeo rider; that’s my dream.”
Life On The Ranch
Fifteen-year-old Taylor Baldwin knows a thing or two about life on a ranch as well. Cousin to Colt Papy, Taylor also lives on the Baldwin Angus Ranch and spends much of her time working cattle and riding horses.
“Colt and I work together on our projects,” she explains. And even though they compete in separate rodeo events, they train and travel to competitions together.
Taylor has experienced quite a bit of success of her own over the years at the Southeastern Youth Fair, winning in the homegrown steer division as grand champion as well as winning the carcass contest twice, where judges evaluate the marbling of the animal’s meat via the use of an ultrasound.
“I’ve been blessed. It’s a lot of work, but it pays off in the end,” she says modestly. Along with the steer competition, Taylor has won awards in the Skill-A-Thon, a quiz bowl format where competitors need to understand and identify different aspects of their project, whether it’s a steer, lamb or swine.
Similar to her cousin, Taylor spends most of her time on the ranch. Preparing the steer for the fair is a major time commitment on top of an already full schedule of caring for the horses, chickens and dogs that also call the ranch home. A typical day includes waking up early to feed the animals and start barn chores followed by school, which for Taylor consists of Florida Virtual School this year to allow her to focus on her animals. After studying, it’s back to the barn to work the steers and horses followed by end-of-the-day feeding and barn chores.
“It doesn’t leave much time for anything else,” Taylor says.
She explains that while they spend a lot of time preparing the animals for the fair in February, there’s a lot more involved. All entrants have to keep record books throughout the process, which are also judged, as well as send out handwritten letters to potential buyers.
“We’ll also set up interviews to personally meet buyers,” she says. “A lot of times it helps to have a face to go with the name.”
And when the fair draws to a close, the awards are handed out and the steers are all sold to the top bidders, farm life doesn’t end for Taylor and her cousin. Her goal is to earn a rodeo scholarship for college and one day become a professional rider.
“It’s a lot of work, but I love it,” she says with a smile. “I definitely wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
You Name it, He’s Done It
Rather than ask 18-year-old Kyle Konrath which projects he has competed in at the Southeastern Youth Fair, you’d get a much shorter answer asking him which he hasn’t competed in.
“I’ve done dogs, swine, heifer, shooting, tractor driving, home arts, garden, citrus, plants, BBQ and probably some others I don’t even remember,” he says. This year, he will compete in the tractor driving competition and participate in the swine, plant and home arts shows as well. But one of his most successful projects has been working with his dogs, Sandie, a boarder collie; Ruger, a German Shepherd; and Angel, a now-retired Aussie mix.
“I’ve been showing dogs since I was 5 years old,” Kyle says. What’s even more impressive is the fact that Kyle does all his own training, competing successfully in obedience, agility, rally, showmanship and brace, which consists of obedience tests with two dogs as opposed to one. Unfortunately, this year, Ruger suffered a ruptured spleen and Sandie was diagnosed with lupus. And while both dogs are recovering, Kyle doesn’t want to push them to compete.
Rather, he’ll spend his last year of eligibility in the fair competing in some of his other favorite areas, one of which is the tractor driving competition, where he’s already achieved plenty of success.
“I’ve been competing on the tractor since I was 9, but I’ve been driving them on the farm since I was even younger,” he says, referring to his family’s 40-acre farm in Summerfield. One of his most notable accomplishments came as a freshman in high school when he qualified for the state finals and finished second out of 13 seniors.
“I had a great teacher, Mr. Sam Love, who pushed me and told me I could do it. He inspired me and found my potential,” says Kyle, who has now taken on the role of mentoring the younger kids in his FFA program at Belleview High School. “I love teaching,” he says. “I do all the maintenance on the tractors at school and love having a few kids who really want to learn.”
To list all of Kyle’s accomplishments over the years would take pages. He can barely remember them all himself. He’s done everything from building replicas of horse barns to baking apricot nut bars.
“It’s amazing how much I’ve done when I think about it,” says Kyle modestly. And while extremely successful over the years, he’s also been incredibly generous with his winnings, donating some to various charities and 4-H clubs after putting some into a college savings account for himself.
“It’s important to give back to the community,” he says. Though one can hardly fathom how Kyle manages all of his projects with a full school schedule, he also runs his own tractor business and works at the Mulberry Dog and Animal Hospital.
“I couldn’t have done all this without my dogs. It takes a lot of determination and patience to train. They’ve taught me to picture who I want to be and then go be it,” he says. “When I want something, I’ll work for it and I’ll get it.”
Carrying A Full Schedule
There are two words that best describe Samantha Dailey’s year so far: full schedule. This 17-year-old junior at Vanguard High School is not only taking a rigorous course load in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, but she has also fully immersed herself in the Southeastern Youth Fair on multiple levels.
“It’s been an interesting year so far,” laughs Samantha, who is a state officer in the Junior Cattleman’s Association and a member of the County Council. “It can be hard, but somehow, I fit it all in,” she says.
A Southeastern Youth Fair competitor since age 9, Samantha got her start with a lamb.
“But then I wanted to try steers once I thought I could handle it,” she says.
Samantha, who serves as a fair ambassador, has also successfully shown rabbits and heifers as well as participated in the home arts and kitchen shows.
“I’ve made cookies and jams, decorated a cake, made scrapbooks and pajamas, there’s so many things you can do,” she says, reflecting on her past projects.
Samantha lives at her family’s farm in Anthony, right beside the horses, cows and heifers, and steers she shows in the fair.
She was also recently successful in breeding her first bull calf, Dusty, who, because of a difficult delivery, has to be bottle-fed by Samantha twice daily.
“I wake up early before school to feed him and then once again when I get home in the evening,” she says, admitting that though there’s added work involved, there is great satisfaction from working so closely with the young animal.
Samantha cares for the animals on the farm herself, which involves dedicating a fair amount of time to handling the steer and teaching it how to lead, though she admits this year has presented its share of challenges so far.
“He’ll either take off running sometimes or just won’t move. This one’s a little difficult,” she says with a patient smile. Samantha acknowledges that it can be difficult at first to raise an animal for sale but says that gaining an understanding of the industry is the purpose of the youth fair projects. And Samantha has plans to remain in the industry, hoping to pursuea degree in either agricultural business or marketing.
“I’ve learned so much from my years in 4-H,” she says, explaining that next year will be her final year of eligibility. “I would do it all over again. I’ve met so many friends and learned so much,” Samantha adds. “The fair is my favorite week of the year. The community support is really something special.”
A Family Affair
Michelle & Allison Mack
Sixteen-year-old Michelle Mack and her sister, 14-year-old Allison, are learning first hand the importance of teamwork. The two girls live on their parents’ small farm in Northwest Ocala and have a family history of Southeastern Youth Fair participation.
“My mom and dad are both from Ocala and were both in 4-H. That’s how we got started,” says Michelle, who first took part when she was 8 years old. Her list of accolades include grand champion in the lamb show, two blue ribbons and a red in the rabbit show, a fourth-place finish in the carcass contest of the steer show, an overall high-point award and multiple record book awards—though the table heaped with awards in the family’s living room suggests there are plenty more. This year, Michelle will enter the steer show with Walter, a steer she bought from Hal Phillips Ranch in Williston.
“My dad helped me pick him out. He taught me what to look for when selecting one to enter,” says Michelle. She explains that while confirmation is one aspect, looking for a steer with a gentle disposition is just as important.
“If they’re too hard to work with, they can’t show. They have to be able to stand for a judge,” she says. It’s Michelle’s job to make sure Walter is handled regularly and fed properly and to know as much about the beef industry as she can. The end goal is for Walter to be auctioned for a fair price at the fair’s conclusion. Her father, Larry, explains that the fair isn’t about the animals; it’s about educating the kids about the agricultural industry.
“It’s not about whose steer brings in the highest price. What’s important is that the kids learn how to select and bring along an animal. It’s all about the kids,” says Larry.
Allison will show her lamb, Emma, this year, her third time entering the lamb show.
“I knew I wanted to enter an animal but didn’t really feel ready to handle a steer or a hog yet, so I started with a lamb, and I just liked it,” say Allison.
Along with caring for their animals, which they do before and after school and on weekends, the girls are required to research and prepare presentations on their animals, a key component to the fair that both girls agree has helped them in the realm of public speaking.
“You learn a lot about responsibility and time management from working with the animals,” says Michelle. Her sister agrees. And while their animals certainly keep the girls busy, the two are also active in sports. Michelle plays lacrosse, while Allison is a gymnast and tennis player. And just like many of their fellow fair entrants, though the work is tiresome, these sisters wouldn’t trade it for anything and will be back again next year with new projects.