Learning to train animals for the stock show transforms Lockhart High School student
By Kristen Meriwether, Editor LPR
Like many 14-year-olds, Elizabeth Hutchins was a self-proclaimed shy awkward freshman. She was unsure what she would do with her life and found herself in an FFA meeting four years ago.
It was there she met FFA sponsor Scott Brown who introduced her to the concept of training animals for a stock show. With her interest piqued, she got her first lamb in September 2017—a 20-pound runt of the litter.
Hutchins fed the animal two pounds per feeding in an attempt to pack on the pounds. She walked the animal every day to build muscles and practiced the showmanship skills she would need to earn a victory. By March 2018 Hutchins had turned the 20-pound runt into a 150-pound lamb.
“I placed 5th at my county show and got a little over $1,000 in sales,” Hutchins told LPR in a Feb. 26 interview. “Once I got that taste of winning or placing well, I wanted more. I was immediately hooked.”
Four years have passed since Hutchins showed her first lamb. She is no longer a shy awkward freshman, but a well-spoken, self-assured 17-year-old Lockhart High School senior who is president of Lockhart FFA. She has spent the past four years showing lambs and goats and is no longer unsure of her future.
At last year’s Houston Livestock Show she had a lamb and a goat that didn’t have a good chance of placing. Instead of going into the ring with a downer attitude, ready to lose, Hutchins pulled on the problem-solving experience she’d gained the previous three years and entered the ring with a positive mindset.
“I knew I was going to show the pants off that lamb. And it happened,” Hutchins said. “I placed 16th out of 50-something people in class. I was super proud of myself.”
She kept the positive mindset with her goat, who was in even worse shape than the lamb. The goat placed even higher.
“At that moment I realized that the stock show industry is what I want to be in for the rest of my life.” Hutchins said.
She plans to attend Blinn College to get her associate’s and then transfer to Texas Tech to get a degree in animal science. Her goal is to get a certification in embryology and breed her own lambs and goats.
When most people think of FFA they think of farming. But as Hutchins found the program teaches leadership skills, communication, and responsibility. Those are vital life skills that translate both in and out of the ring.
Hutchins said when she first gets her lambs for the year, she sits outside with a feed bucket every day, trying to earn her animal’s trust. Then it’s two weeks of teaching the animal to use a halter.
She works the animal out on a treadmill to get their butt muscles looking perfect and walks them on a track to ensure good chest muscles. Like any athlete in training, the animals are given a steady diet of protein and fat to ensure they build muscle for the show.
“We want to be as safe as possible with these animals,” Hutchins said. “We don’t want to hurt them at all.”
Hutchins said throughout show season she will see the animal go through periods of having too much muscle, or being too fat, or too skinny. She has to learn to problem solve and roll with the punches.
All the training and hard work pays off at stock shows, like the Caldwell County Junior Livestock Show (CCJLS), which takes place this weekend (March 4-7). Students like Hutchins bring their animals to be judged.
Hutchins said she learned her first year how important eye contact is in the ring. As the timid, shy freshman, she didn’t look directly at the judge, something that will cause a judge to not take a contestant seriously.
As she’s progressed, she learned the proper stare, indicating she’s a serious competitor, and her animal is worth a second look.
“I’ve had judges come up to me and tell me I’m too serious.” Hutchins said, laughing.
Showmanship is another skill she’s harnessed over the years. Learning to control the animal, keep it level, and the art of walking smooth.
“It’s a harsh reality in the show ring,” Hutchins said. “You have to think quickly.”
Hutchins will take her lambs, Parker and Dolly to the CCJLS this weekend for the final local show of her senior year.
“I’d like to thank Mr. Jordan Hinckley and the Caldwell County Junior Livestock show council for putting on our county show and making my senior year worth it,” Hutchins said.
Caldwell County Junior Livestock Show
Thursday, March 4: Check/weigh in 12:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Friday, March 5: Judging 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday, March 6: Judging 8:00 a.m. – 3:00
Saturday, March 6: BBQ Dinner 3:30 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.; Animal Auction 6 p.m.