GUYTON — A doorway to valuable learning opportunities is always open at Honey Ridge Agricenter.
On June 8, a group of Effingham County School District students selected calves that they will care for and work with in preparation for a series of cattle shows, including one at the Effingham County Fair in October.
“She is a newcomer to this,” Marcia Zimmerman said as she watched her daughter, Emma, pick No. 121, a Hereford heifer.
The proud mother didn’t resist when Emma made it known to her that she wanted to raise a cow.
“She just loves animals,” Zimmerman said. “When she was much younger, we had a little cow. His name was Harley and we gave him to a friend.”
Emma jumped at the chance to get a cow again after recently moving to Effingham County from Pennsylvania. The aspiring veterinarian is a 16-year-old junior at South Effingham High School.
“I really love animals and I wanted to get more involved with school,” said Emma, who was accompanied by Jackie Alascagua and Yunue Chacon. “I don’t think FFA is as big in Pennsylvania as it is here.”
Alascagua and Chacon didn’t pick a calf for themselves but they offered some advice to their close friend.
“They wanted me to get a small one,” Emma said.
“But they are so cute,” Alascagua said with a smile.
Emma started considering names for her new beast immediately after choosing it.
“I was thinking Betsy, Sweet Pea or Bertha,” she said initially.
A few minutes later, however, Nemo emerged as a possible moniker.
Emma walked around a pen filled with more than a dozen 5- to 6-month-old cows before finalizing her pick.
“I was making sure that it was a heifer and not a steer, and that it was purebred,” she said. “I wanted it to look good, basically, and healthy.”
The bulk of Honey Ridge calves come from a prestigious Hereford bloodline established by livestock breeder Sam Zemurray decades ago. Zemurray, a former Georgia Hereford Association president who died in 2018, transferred Honey Ridge and his cattle to the Effingham County School District in 2016.
“In the past, our purebred registered Hereford heifers have done better at local shows and the around the state, including the state livestock show in Perry,” South Effingham High School agriculture teacher Alicia Richardson said.
Emma and other students wasted no time in getting acquainted with their cows. They were transported to a nearby barn shortly after the selection process ended to begin halter training.
“(The cows) are very stubborn at first,” said Benjamin Richardson, a South Effingham agriculture teacher and Alicia Richardson’s husband. “You are trying to do something that they aren’t used to doing. It’s an amazing transformation because they are stubborn and will pull you around in June but by February they will be like puppy dogs.”
In addition to walking their animals, the students wash them and give their coats and hooves special treatment.
“I used to say it’s like a girl getting ready for prom,” Benjamin Richardson said.
Young Farmers Advisor Logan Hunter thinks livestock showing is gaining popularity.
“We had five (students) out here picking cows today,” he said. “We had nine kids get a goat to show probably three weeks ago. (The goats) weaned a lot earlier.”
One student previously opted for a sheep.
“And we’ve got six pig showers here, too,” Hunter said.
Emma will feed and water her heifer twice a day. She will also put a halter on it regularly and walk it around in preparation for leading it in a show ring.
“I’m excited about it,” she said. “I think I’m ready.”
Without Honey Ridge Agricenter, Emma’s foray into livestock showing wouldn’t be possible. Her family lives in a Rincon subdivision.
“(Teachers) suggest that you leave (the cow) here because it will get the best care,” Zimmerman said. “You don’t have to buy the food or anything. They provide all that.”
Emma does keep a few animals at her residence — a cat, a lizard and a pair of turtles.
“She actually wants a horse, and she has a dog,” her mother said.
Emma’s situation with her cow is shared by several students in Effingham County.
“Last year, we had like nine pig showers and I think all nine lived in subdivisions where they couldn’t have a pig,” Hunter said.
Hunter believes livestock showing is a worthwhile endeavor for students.
“It teaches a sense of responsibility, the idea of taking care of something and a knowledge for animals,” he said. “There’s a lot in it that goes toward teamwork, too. They make a team with themselves and the animal, and this place allows us — if you are showing in this barn at Honey Ridge and using a county trailers — we want you to work as a team.
“Those kids become friends and they essentially become teammates. It’s not a team sport but they still get a lot of those same aspects out of it.”
Hunter offered one more important thought.
“I always like to tell some of these kids, ‘It’s win or learn’ with this sport. I don’t think they ever lose in this or any sport,” he said. “I don’t think you ever lose showing animals because there is always something to learn.
“Sometimes there are things you can’t control but you have to persevere and keep going.”
At the end of each livestock show season, which consists of about 10 events, students have the option of purchasing their chosen animal or returning it to Honey Ridge. Cows will weigh around 1,200 pounds by then.
“The females will come back to the herd,” Hunter said. “The males — we allow the students to buy them if they want them. If they return them back to us, we will sell them.
“We’re providing an opportunity for kids to show those animals. We are going to be feeding those animals anyway so the tradeoff is having kids learn about agriculture. I’d do that any day.”