Belleview junior Aubrey Loebig of the Belleview FFA chapter, escorts her steer Waylon through the barn at the Southeastern Youth Fair on Monday. [Ainslie Lee/Ocala Gazette]
Nestled in a quiet stall in the far corner of the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion barn, Riley Rowe lounged in a lawn chair as hundreds of exhibitors prepared their steers for Monday night’s show during the Southeastern Youth Fair.
Just a year removed from exhibiting, Rowe, a Belleview High School graduate, is the current president of the Florida FFA Association. Rowe is the first president of the organization to come from Marion County. State officers serve for a year and act as ambassadors for the organization.
“It’s very cool because this place definitely holds a lot of sentimental value for me,” Rowe said. “So being able to see the FFA members get to show these animals that they’ve worked so hard on all year is definitely something that means a lot, as well as the fair just learning how to work with the schools and the students to make sure that they’re having the safest environment possible for them, while also keeping things somewhat normal.”
The sight, sounds and smells of the barn were like tiptoeing through the tulips for Rowe, who started showing at the fair when she was just 5 years old. She started showing steers as an 8-year-old.
The steer show is always a centerpiece at the fair. The fair evolved from a steer auction first held in 1941, then known as the Southeastern Fat Stock Show.
On Monday, juniors Delaney Faison and Aubrey Loebig, also of Belleview high, were among those slaving away with water hoses, Mane ‘N Tail shampoo and blow dryers.
With the weigh-in starting at 8 a.m. and the show not starting until 7 p.m., the day is long.
Loebig got there at 8:30 a.m., while Faison got in at 9:20 a.m.
“We were trying to wait so the line wouldn’t be as long,” Faison said. “But the line was so long this year because we have so many steers this year.”
“About 120,” Loebig said.
Once weighed in, competitors decorate stalls, fight for water hose time to bathe the half-ton steers and then groom the animals until showtime.“You gotta get (the steers) to where they relax,” Faison said. “Sometimes it’s hard because they’re used to being at home with other calves… It’s very different up here with there being so many calves.”
Relying on her years of experience, Faison came prepared with a shop fan to keep her 1,310-pound steer “Mickie” cool throughout the day.
While both Faison and Loebig know the animals are not pets, they still can’t help getting attached to their animals.
Faison got her steer in March, while Loebig started raising hers in September.
“I’m extremely attached to mine,” Faison said. “I’ve had him from almost a year, and he’s like my little baby. I got him when he was 400 pounds, and now, he’s 1,310.”
Loebig has a similar fondness for her steer “Waylon.”
“I’m attached,” Loebig said. “But we also know where they’re going at the end of the day.”
Mickie and Waylon, along with more than 100 other steers, will be auctioned off at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. This year, the fair introduced online bidding. For information, visit seyfair.com.