Monday, March 5, 2018

Junior Members Making Noise in Spring Branch FFA

Avery Kolb (white shirt) with her Grand Champion breeding heifer at the recent Spring Branch FFA Show and Sale. With Avery, a fifth-grader at Frostwood Elementary, are Wade Cline, buckle and banner sponsor; David Fleming, cattle judge; and former Spring Branch FFA student Abby Cline.
If you didn’t think participation in Future Farmers of American (FFA) was a family affair, then you haven’t seen the results from the 40th annual Spring Branch FFA Show and Sale, held this year on Feb. 2-3.

Two of the large animal categories were won by fifth-graders. James Cox of Wilchester Elementary showed the grand champion market swine, while Avery Kolb of Frostwood Elementary showed the grand champion breeding heifer.

James Cox (center) just after learning his market swine had been named Grand Champion at the recent Spring Branch FFA Show and Sale. With James, a fifth-grader at Wilchester Elementary, are Annette Risley of Katy Feed and Tack, buckle and banner sponsor; and Jason Woods, swine judge.

Numbers are still be finalized, but this year’s sale and show “far exceeded” last year’s totals, said Spring Branch FFA Alumni President Kristin Valicek raising more than $300,000. Besides the winning bid for their animal or project – of which the student keeps 90 percent – other buyers can “add-on” to that bid. Those “add-ons” are still coming in, she said.

Valicek said that the sale is seeing more new buyers – and some returning buyers – along with longtime traditional buyers such as Metro National.

“The (buyers) who come to the show – the ones the kids go and see and ask to come – they love it,” she said. “They all say ‘please keep me on your list’ for next year.”

Normally the realm of high school students, there has never been a lack of younger students at the FFA barn, hanging out with older siblings and helping with the seemingly endless chores associated with tending livestock.

Avery Kolb may have been born to raise and show livestock. Her mother, Jill Kolb, grew up on a working ranch near Hungerford, a ranch her family still works today, just like they have since 1908.

Jill Kolb said that Avery and her sister Presley, a seventh-grader at Memorial Middle who won reserve champion breeding heifer, joined Spring Branch FFA when it opened to junior members.

“(My kids) enjoy ranching,” Jill Kolb said. “They’ve been going to livestock shows since they were born – Avery was six-weeks-old at her first livestock show.”

James Cox took a different path to FFA.

His mother, Jennifer Cox, grew up north of Atlanta and has no history of raising and showing livestock. His father, Clay, grew up in South Texas with limited participation in FFA or 4-H.

“I had no idea that Spring Branch had an FFA until last year,” said Jennifer Cox, James’ mother. That’s when her older son, Wheeler, now an eighth-grader at Memorial Middle, came home one day and told his mother that “I think I can raise animals.” Jennifer Cox isn’t sure how Wheeler heard about FFA but said finding new and interesting things to do it “not surprising for Wheeler.”

Wheeler raised and showed a pig last year, she said, and James watched his older brother. This year James thought he wanted to raise a pig as well.

Jennifer Cox is hooked now. “It’s a family affair,” she said. “We love it.”

The FFA program at Spring Branch is unusual in the way it allows for junior members, said Valicek. The junior member program has grown in numbers the past 2-3 years, she said, and with only minor exceptions those junior members have to perform like the high school members.

“It’s a high school program,” she said. “This is not for you to do for your children. The students have to do the work … you get to be in FFA. It’s an honor.”

Valicek said that the Spring Branch FFA program is also unusual in that every student who shows an animal gets to go across the auction block with that animal. That’s not always the case, especially in larger chapters.

Catherine Perez and her High Point trophy from the non-livestock competition.
And not everyone raises animals, or only raises animals. Catherine Perez, a Wilchester Elementary fifth-grader, won high points for non-livestock. Catherine raised rabbits but won first place in the Non-Livestock contest with her creative projects. Catherine and her twin sister, Caroline, and older brother and sister – also twins – are all junior members.

Avery Kolb and her sister Presley raise and show Brahman cattle, the same breed raised at Jill Kolb’s family ranch and the same breed that she showed growing up. A breeding heifer has to be retired from shows at age two, while they live for 10-12 years. That means that the family can get several new calves each year.

The calm before the storm. Students, parents and alumni have the Ag Barn on Brittmoore ready for the 2018 Show and Sale.
“That helps us too,” she said, “by putting those heifers back in our herd. We’re kind of partial to Brahmans.”

Jill Kolb has a third daughter who’s now a second-grader but as a third-grader next year will become a junior member.

“We’ll have three in the barn,” said Jill Kolb

While Jill Kolb knew what she was getting into with FFA, the learning curve was steeper for Jennifer Cox. She quickly learned that FFA is a family affair.

The animals require daily care and feeding, sometimes twice a day. And that means every day, holidays included.

“The kids are expected to do all the work – and it’s a lot of work,” she said of the daily and weekly chores. “I’m just a driver … it’s been great for our family.”

Jennifer Cox said that her four children each have different interests. James’ twin brother Jack hasn’t yet been bitten by the FFA bug, but her kindergartner daughter can “drive a pig” – she can walk and control a pig using a whip to guide it.

“Not every kid is into sports or academics,” said Jennifer Cox. “FFA gives them an avenue to be successful … they are amazing kids who don’t always get the recognition they deserve.”

Jill Kolb agrees.

“FFA is such a great program,” she said. “It opens a new world for kids.”

Valicek said that a lot of people work to make Spring Branch FFA what it is, but she especially called out agriculture teachers Katie Thompson Corona and Nick Gonzales, and Guthrie Center principal Joe Kolenda and assistant principal Jane Primrose in particular for their support of the program.

“They’re just awesome,” she said.

by Rusty Graham


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