Meghan Younger was excited and nervous at 8 a.m. Saturday.
Wearing a dark-blue Arlington Heights High School FFA uniform and black pumps, she was poised to step onto the sawdust-covered floor of the Sheep Barn carrying the Texas flag as part of the color guard for the Junior Wether Lamb Show’s opening ceremony. A few hours later, she would show a Southdown wether lamb (wether means in sheep what steer means in cattle) in her third Fort Worth Stock Show competition. And because Saturday was her 18th birthday, the lamb, named Thunder X, was the last animal she would show as a high school student.
“I’m a little sad that this is my last year in FFA,” Younger said. “But I will try to show collegiately in the open shows.”
Unlike many of her peers, who hope their animals will help pay for college, Younger said she never looked at raising and showing FFA projects as a ticket to a scholarship. Such awards usually require the winner to major in agriculture, but Younger has other plans.
“I want to double-major in athletic training and animal science at West Texas A&M,” she said. “I’ve been accepted there and applied for housing.”
An official at the lamb show hopes that Younger is an exception among urban FFA students and their country cousins in 4-H Clubs.
“Youth drives everything in agriculture,” said Josh Smartt, a lamb show validation coordinator. “FFA has a big effect. A lot of teachers and agriculture leaders come from the inner cities. My wife grew up in Keller, has a degree in animal science and has applied to go to veterinary school.”
Texas has the largest FFA membership in the U.S., said Terry Phillips, another validation coordinator.
And because lambs are a lot easier to buy, feed and care for, they’re a good alternative to cattle and pigs for students who want to compete, said Greg Marwitz, the show’s deputy superintendent.
“There were 1,461 entered” in the show, Marwitz said. “About 850 showed up.”
Breeds represented Saturday were fine wool, fine wool cross, Southdown and Dorper. Sunday’s 8 a.m. show will have medium-wool lambs, and the grand and reserve grand champions will be chosen.
Younger chose a Southdown because she thinks it looks like a teddy bear when its wool is full. Wether lambs are shown sheared so the judge can better see what lies beneath.
“The judge is looking for the meat,” Phillips said. “He’ll find the lamb that will produce the biggest percentage of lean meat. He’s looking for the thickness of the loin and legs.”
Lamb meat is delicious, Phillips said. While Texas is a leading producer of lamb, Phillips said, the state is “way down on the number of [lamb] consumers. Most of the meat produced in Texas goes to the Northeast.”