FFA is an organization that helps students interested in a wide variety of career paths like Agriculture Mechanics, Vet Science, AgriBusiness, Animal Science, Horticulture & Crop Production, Biotechnology and many more. Being a part of FFA teaches students important life skills, and provides them with many scholarship opportunities. Although students are not required to raise an animal in FFA, raising one can provide students with special high school experiences.
“Many of our members choose to raise animals because it is a rewarding experience that helps to establish discipline and responsibility, in addition to time and financial management,” Agriculture and FFA teacher Katy Sheffield said.
Students in FFA have many commitments when it comes to raising livestock. Some of those commitments include feeding, bathing, medicating and providing the animals with water on a regular basis. The students that do not raise livestock can participate in Leadership Development Events (LDE’s) and Career Development Events (CDE’s). These are usually team projects, so students have to commit to before or after school practices.
“Students raise these animals in a production setting, but we have also had students participate in the Texas FFA, Fort Bend County, and Katy ISD Rodeos in various events,” said Sheffield. “These events include barrel racing, pole bending, breakaway roping, and tie-down roping.”
Entering a show is a really big deal in FFA, and it signifies that the student and their animal have successfully prepared the animal so it is market ready. High rankings at these shows means students could potentially win money that is funded directly to them. Students that earn this money usually use it to save for college, a vehicle, or to fund the next year’s projects.
“We have had students who have earned $6,000 or more simply from placing high enough at the livestock show and selling their animal for that amount in the live auction,” said Sheffield. “That was at our KISD Livestock Show, not even at the major or county shows.”
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, or HLSR, awards over 400 scholarships each year that come to a total of $200,000. Students must stay active in the FFA chapter to be eligible for these scholarships, although some require members to participate in the show and rodeo itself. There are four categories to the scholarships: School Art, Exhibitor, Hildebrand and the general HLSR Scholarship. The School Art scholarships are for students that have participated in the School Art Contest, the Exhibitor is for students who have exhibited an approved project, and the Hildebrand is for students who have exhibited a market lamb. The general HLSR is open to any senior that is planning on going to a Texas College or University.
“Over $2 million is awarded annually to Texas FFA members,” said Sheffield. “Students have the opportunity to apply for many different scholarships through FFA, which range in the amount offered, but the HLSR has some of the largest amounts available.”
Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the HLSR last March was cancelled in the middle of the show. The show was able to refund the money that exhibitors and chapters had spent on entries, but it was disappointing to all the members who had worked so hard to make this show happen. There were three students who had participated this year, but only two of them had already caught calves before the show was canceled.
“Those three students have had animals on feed since May with the hope to return to the 2021 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and exhibit their animals,” said Sheffield. “They are spending a lot of time and money taking the risk, but remaining hopeful that the show will continue as scheduled next March.”
Amidst these confusing and uncertain times, the Agriculture and FFA teachers have dedicated their time and efforts to help students achieve their goals and set them up for success. Although there are many challenges that come with being a part of the FFA organization, both the physical and emotional rewards it provides are always worth it.
“I’ve witnessed firsthand the life-changing impact that FFA has had on thousands of students,” said Sheffield. “I’ve gotten the chance to see high school kids develop into young adults who are prepared for their future and ready to accomplish great things.”