FORT WORTH -- Candyman the llama nuzzled Cristina Loscuito affectionately Thursday afternoon outside the stalls at John Justin Arena.
It was a quiet afternoon at the Fort Worth Stock Show, and the two had plenty of time to prepare for the llama performance class competition this morning.
Loscuito, 18, is the last llama exhibitor left at Kerens High School from a bumper crop of 14 a few years ago.
Since then, the program has been hurt by graduations, a bad economy that discourages new students from purchasing llamas for show and a fire that destroyed the school's ag barn.
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"At my school, they're more sports-oriented," said Loscuito, who is a senior looking forward to graduation in the spring. "Our ag barn burned down, and we just got a new one, so our ag and FFA program is just getting started building back up."
Loscuito also shows Black Angus heifers, with the llama exhibition as a side activity since it is not an FFA-sanctioned event.
"Most of the llama people are older people, and there are not a lot of younger ones coming in," said Jessie Rierson of Corsicana, manager of PnE Ranch and an adult volunteer with the Navarro County Youth Llama Show team.
He blames rising fuel and feed costs, parents' job losses, and the space required to own a llama as reasons teenagers don't exhibit llamas as often as before.
"The numbers in all youth llama shows are down," he said.
Loscuito's Candyman is being housed with the PnE contingent of five llamas entered in the Stock Show.
"I'm going to keep showing [llamas] even after I graduate," said Loscuito, who plans to attend Tarleton State University in Stephenville and major in animal science and minor in agricultural business.
In fact, she has another llama, Andy, which she is training for the Houston Livestock Show to exhibit along with Candyman.
But Candyman was her first llama, and she has shown him twice. He likes sweet tea and horse treats, she said.
"When I got my llama, he bonded with me quickly," said Loscuito, a self-proclaimed "animal girl" who is designing her graduation invitations with pictures of herself, her llamas, the heifer she is showing this week in Fort Worth and a baby goat.
Candyman, a 2-year-old medium wool male, is a poufy vision with his brown and black-dappled white coat and affectionate demeanor.
Folks at the PnE Ranch had planned to show him themselves, and a group of other young llamas were being offered to the ag students.
"She picked him out, and he wasn't for sale," Rierson recalled. "I finally put a price on him, and she didn't balk at paying it."
In the costume contest that concludes the llama show on Friday, Candyman "is going to be a giant Dalmatian with a fire hat," she said, "and I'm going to be a giant fire plug."
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657